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Summary of Shi'i history and doctrines, excerpted from the book Introduction to Shí'í Islam.
Footnotes are missing from this text; see it online at google books. See also a short encyclopedia version, momen_encyclopedia_shii_islam.

This article is a selection of excerpts from Momen's much longer book, which can be found online unformatted at momen_introduction_shii_islam. Shared by author in 1999; appeared at ca. 2008; formatted and edited for posting here in 2012.

An Introduction to Shi'i Islam

by Moojan Momen

Oxford: George Ronald, 1985
start page

All chapters

  1. History
  2. The Lives of the Imams
  3. Sufism
  4. The Timurid Period
  5. The Nineteenth Century
  6. Theology
  7. Doctrines and Practices Specific to Shi'ism
  8. The Evolution of the Role of the Ulama
  9. The Shaykhi School
  10. The Babi Movement and the Bahá'í Religion
  11. The Popular Religion: Personal Shi'i practice and ethos
  12. Contemporary Iran and the Revolution

Chapter 1


The Question of the Succession to Muhammad

      The succession to Muhammad is clearly the key question in Shi'i Islam and the principal factor separating Shi'is from the Sunni majority. The question is not only who was the successor of Muhammad but also the nature of the role of this successor, for it is on both these points that Shi'is and Sunnis disagree.

      On the death of Muhammad, an ad hoc assemblage of a number of the notables in Islam elected, by general consensus, Abu Bakr to be the Caliph or successor to Muhammad. This was envisaged as being a temporal appointment designed to continue the position of Muhammad as the head of the city of Medina and of a confederacy of tribes, which was the emerging Muslim state. A conspicuous absentee at this meeting of election was 'Ali, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law. There were a number of persons who considered that in view of a number of statements made by Muhammad in his lifetime, 'Ali should have occupied the leading position — not only as temporal head (Caliph) but also as spiritual head (Imam).

      In order to understand the personality of 'Ali and his position it is necessary to return to the very beginning of Islamic history and trace, firstly, 'Ali's part in it and, secondly, the close relationship between the Prophet and 'Ali. Thirdly, it is also necessary to examine those Traditions, many accepted by both Sunnis and Shi'is, that are considered by Shi'is to mean that 'Ali was the rightful successor of Muhammad.

      The Prophet was brought up in the house of Abu Talib, 'Ali's father and thus Muhammad was very close to his young cousin from the time of the latter's birth. Indeed, the two may be regarded as foster-brothers, despite the difference in age between them.

      Over the ensuing years 'Ali was constantly at Muhammad's side. When the night came for the flight from Mecca to Medina, it was 'Ali who took on the dangerous task of sleeping in the Prophet's bed and thus fooling the assassins that had been sent to murder the Prophet. After Muhammad's successful escape, 'Ali remained in Mecca long enough to settle the Prophet's debts and then together with some of the Muslim women he too slipped away to Medina.

      During the Medinan period 'Ali acted as Muhammad's secretary and deputy. Whenever there were important documents to be written, such as the treaty of Hudaybiyya, it was 'Ali who wrote them. The Prophet's daughter, Fatima, was given in marriage to 'Ali and the children of this marriage, Hasan and Husayn, were the only grandchildren of the Prophet to survive into adult life.

      'Ali was one of the most courageous and able men in the Muslim army. He was appointed the standard-bearer at the battles of both Badr and Khaybar. When the Prophet left to go on his longest expedition, to Tabuk, 'Ali was left in charge at Medina. According to some accounts, 'Ali felt insulted to be left with the women and children while, according to others, rumours were spread that 'Ali had been left behind because it was feared he would bring misfortune to the expedition. In any case, 'Ali went to the Prophet voicing his discontent at being left behind. It was at this time, according to numerous Sunni and Shi'i Traditionists, that the famous Hadith of Manzilat Harun (position of Aaron) was revealed. According to this Tradition, Muhammad said to 'Ali: 'Are you not content to be with respect to me as Aaron was to Moses, except that after me there shall be no other Prophet.'[7] The implication was that 'Ali was to be Muhammad's chief assistant in his lifetime and his successor after him.

      'Ali's many personal qualities are amply attested to in various histories and collections of Traditions. Among the statements regarding 'Ali and his family made by the Prophet and accepted as authentic by both Sunnis and Shi'is are the following:

  1. There is no youth braver than 'Ali.[9]
  2. No-one but a believer loves 'Ali and no-one but a hypocrite hates 'Ali.[10]
  3. I am from 'Ali and 'Ali is from me.[11]
  4. The truth circulates with him ('Ali) wherever he goes.[12]
  5. I am the City of Knowledge and 'Ali is its Gate (Bab).[13]
  6. On one occasion the Prophet was about to eat some poultry and he said: 'O God! Send me the man you love most among mankind to eat this bird with me.' And 'Ali came and ate with him.[14]
  7. The Prophet said in reply to someone who had complained about 'Ali: 'What do you think of one who loves God and his Prophet and who in turn is loved by God and his Prophet?' Also: 'The most loved of women to the Prophet of God is Fatima and the most loved of men is 'Ali.'[15]
  8. On one occasion, the Prophet called 'Ali and began whispering to him. After a time those present began saying: 'He has been a long time whispering to his cousin.' Later, the Prophet said: 'It was not I that was whispering to him but God.'[16]
  9. The Prophet took the hand of Hasan and Husayn and said: 'Whoever loves me and loves these two and loves their mother and father, will be with me in my station on the Day of Resurrection.'[17]
  10. The Prophet said: 'Hasan and Husayn are the chiefs of the youths of paradise.'[18]
      It was during the last year of the Prophet's life that, according to Shi'is, he confirmed 'Ali's position as his successor. The occasion was the Farewell Pilgrimage when the Prophet performed the pilgrimage to Mecca for the last time. Having completed the rites of the Pilgrimage, the Prophet set out on the return journey to Medina, accompanied by a large concourse of the Muslims, including all of his leading disciples. At a place called Ghadir Khumm, Muhammad caused the caravan to be stopped and from an improvised pulpit delivered an address. Once again, the principal Sunni and Shi'i sources show no disagreement over the facts of the episode. The following is the account given in Ibn Hanbal, a Sunni collection of Hadith:

We were with the Apostle of God in his journey and we stopped at Ghadir Khumm. We performed the obligatory prayer together and a place was swept for the Apostle under two trees and he performed the mid-day prayer. And then he took 'Ali by the hand and said to the people: 'Do you not acknowledge that I have a greater claim on each of the believers than they have on themselves?' And they replied: 'Yes!' And he took 'Ali's hand and said: 'Of whomsoever I am Lord [Mawla], then 'Ali is also his Lord. O God! Be Thou the supporter of whoever supports 'Ali and the enemy of whoever opposes him.' And 'Umar met him ['Ali] after this and said to him: 'Congratulations, O son of Abu Talib! Now morning and evening [i.e. forever] you are the master of every believing man and woman.'[19]

      Finally there is the highly controversial episode in the last days of Muhammad's life which is usually called the Episode of Pen and Paper. Muhammad, while in his terminal illness and only days before his death called for pen and paper. The following is the account related by al-Bukhari, the Sunni Traditionist, on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas:

When the Prophet's illness became serious, he said: 'Bring me writing materials that I may write for you something, after which you will not be led into error.' 'Umar said: 'The illness has overwhelmed the Prophet. We have the Book God and that is enough for us.' Then the people differed about this and spoke many words. And he [the Prophet] said: 'Leave me! There ought not to be quarrelling in my presence.' And Ibn 'Abbas went out saying: 'The greatest of all calamities is what intervened between the Apostle and his writing.'[20]

      Shi'is claim that what Muhammad wished to write down was the confirmation of 'Ali's successorship. Sunnis have advanced various alternative explanations. Shi'is also claim that the Prophet died with his head in 'Ali's lap. Some Sunni Traditions support this while others state that the Prophet's head was on the lap of his wife, 'A'isha.

      To 'Ali was given a number of privileges not accorded to the other companions of the Prophet. Apart from the fact that the Prophet's daughter was given to 'Ali in marriage, when many others including Abu Bakr and 'Umar had been suitors, 'Ali was the only man allowed to come and go as he pleased in the Prophet's house. At one stage the Prophet ordered all the doors of the various houses opening onto the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina to be blocked off, except for the doors from his own house and from that of 'Ali.[21]

The Events at the Saqifa

      If, as the Shi'is assert, Muhammad had clearly indicated his desire that 'Ali should be his successor, how did it come about that Abu Bakr was elected the first Caliph? This is a very complex matter and central to the whole issue is what occurred at the Saqifa (Portico) of the Banu Sa'ida, a branch of Khazraj tribe of Medina. The facts of what happened are, in broad terms, agreed by the most reliable of both Sunni and Shi'i writers.[37] When Muhammad died, his daughter, Fatima, her husband, 'Ali, and the rest of the family of Hashim, gathered around the body preparing it for burial. Unbeknown to them, two other groups were gathering in the city. One group consisted of Abu Bakr, 'Umar, Abu 'Ubayda and other prominent Meccans (the Muhajirun) and the second of the most important of the Medinans (the Ansar). The second group was gathering in the portico of the Banu Sa'ida. It was reported to Abu Bakr that the Ansar were contemplating pledging their loyalty to Sa'd ibn 'Ubada, chief of the Khazraj. And so Abu Bakr and his group hurried to the Saqifa. One of the Ansar spoke first saying that as the Ansar had been the ones who supported and gave victory to Islam and since the Meccans were only guests in Medina, the leader of the community should be from the Ansar. Abu Bakr replied to this very diplomatically. He began by praising the virtues of the Ansar, but then he went on to point out that the Muhajirun (the Meccans) were the first people in Islam and were closer in kinship to the Prophet. The Arabs would accept leadership only from Quraysh and so Quraysh should be the rulers and the Ansar their ministers. One of the Ansar proposed: 'Let there be one ruler from us and one ruler from you. For we do not begrudge you this matter but we fear to have ruling over us a people whose fathers and brothers we have killed (in fighting between Mecca and Medina before the conquest of Mecca by Muhammad).'[38] And so the argument went back and forth until Abu Bakr proposed: 'Give your allegiance to one of these two men: Abu 'Ubayda or 'Umar. ' And 'Umar replied: 'While you are still alive? No! It is not for anyone to hold you back from the position in which the Apostle placed you. So stretch out your hand.' And Abu Bakr stretched out his hand and 'Umar gave him his allegiance. One by one, slowly at first, and then rushing forward in a mass, the others did likewise.

      It is possible to speculate as to the reasons why Abu Bakr was elected to the leadership. Certainly clan rivalry played a great part. Within Quraysh there was a certain amount of envy and enmity towards the prestige enjoyed by the house of Hashim. Thus 'Umar is reported to have said to 'Ali's cousin at a later date: 'The people did not like having the Prophethood and Caliphate joined together in your house.'[40] Abu Bakr, however, came from a relatively insignificant clan which had no pretensions to power. The Ansar had been contemplating choosing the chief of Khazraj as their leader and so when Abu Bakr came forward as a candidate, the Aws tribe who had been the great rival of Khazraj in Medina were only too eager to have this alternative. Khazraj themselves were not totally united and several leading men of that tribe were among the first to pay obedience to Abu Bakr, presumably having some grudge against their chief. And so, all in all, Abu Bakr was an expedient choice for the majority, although it cannot be denied that he enjoyed considerable prestige in the community anyway.

      With respect to the above speech by Abu Bakr at the Saqifa, in which he refuted the claims of the Ansar to the leadership and advanced the claims of Quraysh, Shi'i historians have pointed out that with respect to each of the points which Abu Bakr mentioned, 'Ali was superior to Abu Bakr. Thus if Quraysh were closer in kinship to the Prophet than the Ansar, then 'Ali was closer than Abu Bakr. If Quraysh were first to accept Islam, then 'Ali was the first of them to do this. If Quraysh were more entitled to leadership among the Arabs than the Ansar on account of their nobility, then 'Ali and the house of Hashim were the most noble clan within Quraysh. And 'Ali's services to Islam and his close personal companionship with the Prophet, were at least equal, if not superior, to Abu Bakr's. Moreover, if selection of the leader was to have been by consensus, then why was the house of Hashim, the house of the Prophet, not consulted? The best that can be said of the affair at the Saqifa is that, in the words of 'Umar, it was a falta, which means an affair concluded in haste and without reflection.[41]

      Both Sunni and Shi'i sources are agreed that after allegiance had been given to Abu Bakr at the Saqifa and at the mosque, 'Umar with a crowd of armed men marched to 'Ali's house demanding that he also pledge his allegiance to Abu Bakr. It is even indicated that a threat was made to bum down 'Ali's house if he refused. Words were exchanged, and according to some accounts, even blows, until Fatima, 'Ali's wife and the daughter of the Prophet, appeared and put the attackers to shame by threatening to make a personal public appeal.

      Both Sunni and Shi'i sources agree that 'Ali was urged by such persons as his uncle al-'Abbas, and even Abu Sufyan of the house of Umayya, to set himself up as an alternative leader and to have allegiance paid to him. Abu Sufyan even offered to fill Medina with armed men to enforce 'Ali's leadership.[42] It is impossible to assess, however, how strong the party that looked to 'Ali at this time was. But 'Ali refused to split the community, particularly when, shortly after Abu Bakr assumed the Caliphate, a large number of the Arabs apostatised from Islam and a campaign had to be waged against them. Under the Caliphates of 'Umar and of 'Uthman also, 'Ali did not advance his claim.

      There is disagreement between Sunni and Shi'i historians as to 'Ali's attitude to the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and later to those of 'Umar and 'Uthman. Sunni historians are anxious to portray 'Ali as having been loyal to the leadership of the first three Caliphates and indeed a trusted adviser in their councils. Some of these sources even state that 'Ali gave his allegiance to Abu Bakr on the day of the Saqifa. The Shi'i historians, of course, completely reject this view. They portray 'Ali as feeling deeply hurt that his rights had been usurped in this underhand manner and only refraining from open rejection of Abu Bakr in order to avoid dissension and strife at a critical time. Shi'i sources maintain that 'Ali did not in fact give his allegiance to the new Caliph until after Fatima's death, which occurred six months after the death of the Prophet.

      Conflict between the Prophet's family and the new Caliph began from the day after the death of the Prophet. Fatima laid claim to the estate of Fadak, which had been the personal property of the Prophet and had come to him out of the booty of the expedition to Khaybar. Abu Bakr refused this claim, stating that the property belonged to the whole community, the Prophet having said: 'No one shall inherit from me, but what I leave is for alms.'

      During the brief two-year period of Abu Bakr's Caliphate, whatever initial support there may have been for 'Ali's candidature melted away in the face of 'Ali's own refusal to advance a claim. However, despite this, there was a handful of men who steadfastly refused to give their allegiance to Abu Bakr or to anyone other than 'Ali. Four of these men, 'Ammar, Miqdad, Abu Dharr and Salman were acclaimed by Shi'is as the first four of their number and, according to many Traditions, these four were shortly joined by another three.

      Shi'i historians scornfully point out that whereas the theoretical justification for the choice of Abu Bakr as Caliph was that this was the consensus of the Muslims, even this claim cannot be made for 'Umar's succession to Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr, on his death-bed, appointed 'Umar as his successor and secured his succession by obtaining pledges of support for 'Umar from several prominent persons. Once again, 'Ali was passed over and was not even consulted.

      Under 'Umar's Caliphate, 'Ali remained withdrawn from public affairs but still refusing to encourage sedition by advancing an alterative claim. The Sunni historians once again minimise the disagreements,[43] whereas the Shi'is show 'Ali openly disagreeing with some of 'Umar's decisions and publicly showing his contempt for the Caliph on several occasions.[44]

      'Umar appointed a council of six men to decide the leadership after him. Although the council included 'Ali, it was weighted in such a way as to make it unlikely that he would be elected. Two of the members of the council, Sa'd and 'Abdu'r-Rahman who were cousins, were naturally inclined to support 'Uthman, who was 'Abdu'r-Rahman's brother-in-law, and moreover, under 'Umar's terms for setting up a council, the casting vote was to be given to 'Abdu'r-Rahman.

      The most commonly quoted Traditions state that the result of the deliberations of the council in 644 was that 'Abdu'r-Rahman offered the Caliphate to 'Ali on the condition that he should rule in accordance with the Qur'an, the example of the Prophet and the precedents established by the first two Caliphs. 'Abdu'r-Rahman must have known of 'Ali's disagreement with some of the policies of the first two Caliphs and so it was inevitable that 'Ali would refuse to bind himself to follow their precedents. 'Abdu'r-Rahman then offered the Caliphate to 'Uthman on the same condition and he accepted.

      Even those historians who are staunchly Sunni can scarcely disguise the fact that 'Uthman's Caliphate was something of a disaster for Islam. in place of the strict piety, simplicity and probity that had characterised the leadership of the community under Muhammad and the first two Caliphs, 'Uthman's leadership was marked by nepotism and a love of wealth and luxury. He was a weak-minded man who allowed his relative, Marwan, to dominate him and to run the affairs of the community. 'Uthman was of the house of Umayya and soon members of this family were placed in the highest positions in the community, despite the fact that, in former days, this family had been the most implacable and the most powerful of the enemies of the Prophet in Mecca and had led the Meccans against the Prophet once he was established in Medina.

      Soon there was disaffection in the provinces of the rapidly expanding Muslim empire. 'Ali was placed in a difficult position. The rebel delegations appealed to him to support their protests and he certainly sympathised with their grievances. But 'Ali, also, was not one to foment discord or to support rebellion. 'Uthman appealed to him to placate the rebels and 'Ali did his best to mediate, urging the Caliph, at the same time, to alter his policies. However, in the end, after the rebels found themselves betrayed by the Caliph, 'Uthman's house was attacked and he was killed.

      Immediately after the murder of 'Uthman, a crowd surrounded 'Ali urging him to accept the Caliphate. 'Ali was at first reluctant to accept, given the circumstances, but he was urged to do so from all sides. The Muhajirun, the Ansar and the delegations from the provinces were all urging acceptance upon him. So eventually he consented. The year was 656; it was 24 years since the death of the Prophet of Islam; after almost a quarter of a century in the wilderness, 'Ali had come to the position that he had considered rightfully his all along.

Chapter 2

The Lives of the Imams

The Imamate of 'Ali

      The early life of the fourth Caliph and first Shi'i Imam, Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, known as Amiru'l-Mu'minin, and his actions under the first three Caliphs have been recorded in the previous chapter. The turbulent years of his brief ministry as Caliph will be considered in this chapter.

      It can be said that 'Ali's succession to the Caliphate was approved of and accepted by the vast majority of Muslims in Medina and also in most of the provinces of the Empire. He was truly a Caliph chosen by a consensus of all the Muslims. After the initial euphoria wore off, however, it became clear that he was faced with grave internal problems. During 'Uthman's Caliphate, all the important governorships of the Muslim Empire had gone to members of the Umayyad family, and now this family, led by its most able member, Mu'awiya, the Governor of Syria, refused to accept 'Ali's Caliphate, urging vengeance for 'Uthman and implying that 'Ali was giving shelter to the murderers and was therefore guilty of complicity. In another direction, Talha and Zubayr, two of the most prominent companions of the Prophet, were galled at the accession to the Caliphate of a younger man, and realising that they would now never have a chance to accede to that position withdrew to Mecca and linked up with 'A'isha, the daughter of Abu Bakr and widow of the Prophet, who had a long-standing grudge against 'Ali. These three proceeded to Basra and raised a rebellion, again in the name of vengeance for 'Uthman, although all three were as much responsible for the murder as anyone.

      At first, all went well for 'Ali. He was, after all, a great military leader and was able to defeat the Basran rebels at the Battle of al-Jamal (the camel). Zubayr and Talha were killed in the fighting and 'A'isha captured and sent back to Medina with the honour due to the widow of the Prophet.

      However, soon the tide of events began to turn against 'Ali. One of the problems that beset him was his own forthright nature. He refused to allow political expediency to dictate to him where he felt a matter of principle was at stake. He set about immediately trying to put right every aspect of the life of the community that he felt had deviated from the intention of the Prophet. He pressed ahead with this regardless of the fact he was making powerful and influential enemies among many who had benefited under the previous Caliphs. These persons went over to Mu'awiya who now came out in open revolt in Syria.

      It was at this point, in 36/656, after the Battle of the Camel, that 'Ali moved his headquarters from Medina to Kufa in Iraq. From this time until the middle of the second Islamic century (mid-8th century AH) when Baghdad was built, Kufa was to remain the main centre of Shi'ism in the Islamic world.

      In 37/657 Mu'awiya marched towards Kufa. Reluctantly, 'Ali came forward to meet him and battle was joined at Siffin. Of the two armies, 'Ali's was filled with veteran companions of the Prophet, particularly the Medinan Ansar, and pious readers of the Qur'an, while Mu'awiya's side could only boast a handful of companions of the Prophet and consisted for the most part of Arab tribes who had joined Islam late and had been drawn to the frontier provinces by the prospect of rich booty. Also, Mu'awiya was an expert intriguer and gladly paved the way for a defection to his side with promises of money.

      The Battle of Siffin was prolonged, bloody and inconclusive. It ended in a call for arbitration. But 'Ali, hampered by the fickle nature of the Kufans, was unable to have the man of his choice represent him, and, although accounts of the arbitration are confused, it seems clear that 'Ali did not come out of it well. In the meantime, a perverse fate dictated that 'Ali, who had been most reluctant to submit to arbitration was now being blamed by part of his Kufan army for having done so, 'judgement is God's alone', they chanted and separated themselves from 'Ali's army, thus becoming known as the Khawarij (Kharijites) or 'Seceders'.

      'Ali found himself hard pressed on all sides. The arbitration process was clearly providing Mu'awiya with an opportunity to regroup and strengthen his position. In Egypt 'Ali's governor was overthrown through Mu'awiya's machinations and the province came under Syrian control. Finally the Khawarij were committing atrocities close to 'Ali's capital and posed a serious threat.

      'Ali was forced to put aside plans for attacking Syria and advanced against the Khawarij. They were routed at the Battle of Nahrawan. But they had their revenge in that it is said to have been one of their number, 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn Muljam, who assassinated 'Ali, wounding him in Kufa on 19 Ramadan 40/27 January 661. 'Ali died two days later. To attempt to draw a portrait of the personal qualities of 'Ali is indeed a difficult task, for he has assumed, even in the eyes of Sunni Muslims, an almost legendary dimension as a paragon of virtues and a fount of knowledge. His courage in battle, his magnanimity towards his defeated opponents, his sincerity and straightforwardness, his eloquence and his profound knowledge of the roots of Islam cannot be questioned, for they are matters of historical record. He is also attributed with having been the founder of the study of Arabic grammar through his disciple, Abu'l-Aswad al-Du'ali, and the originator of the correct method of reciting the Qur'an. His discourses and letters (especially as compiled in the Nahj al-Balagha, which is considered by many Muslims as second only to the Qur'an in importance) are considered the earliest examples of Muslim writings on philosophy, theology and ethicsÉ

Hasan, The Second Imam

      Abu Muhammad Hasan ibn 'Ali, known as al-Mujtaba (the chosen) is considered by Shi'is to have become the Imam after the death of 'Ali. Hasan was born in the year AH 3 in Medina and was brought up in the household of the Prophet himself until the latter's death when Hasan was aged about 7. There can be no doubt that the Prophet had a fondness for his two grandchildren, Hasan and Husayn, whom he referred to as the 'chiefs of youths of paradise'[2] and about whom he had been widely quoted as saying 'he who-has-loved Hasan and Husayn has loved me and he who has hated them has hated me'.[3] Most of the companions of the Prophet still alive could remember how the Prophet used to caress and kiss these two grandchildren of his and how he had even interrupted his sermon on one occasion because Hasan had tripped and fallen.

      Hasan was thirty-seven years old when his father fell at the hands of the assassin at Kufa. It is known that many of the surviving companions of the Prophet, both of the Medinan Ansar and the Meccan Muhajirun, were in 'Ali's army. So they must have been in Kufa at the time of 'Ali's assassination and therefore must have assented to Hasan being acclaimed Caliph in succession to his father a few days later, for there is no record of any dissent to this in Kufa, nor indeed of any dissent in Mecca and Medina.

      Of all the twelve Shi'i Imams, Hasan is the one who has been disparaged most harshly by Western historians. He has been derided for having given up the Caliphate to Mu'awiya without a fight. He has been described as uxorious, unintelligent, incapable and a lover of luxury. This harsh criticism is rejected by Shi'i historians. They point out that Hasan's abdication was not an act of feeble cowardice but a realistic and compassionate act. Following the assassination of 'Ali, the Kufan army had rallied around Hasan to face the advancing Syrian army led by Mu'awiya. But Mu'awiya's spreading of false reports, his secret agents and liberal bribes had wreaked such havoc among Kufans that Hasan had seen his army melt away. In this situation abdication was the only realistic course of action open to Hasan and avoided pointless bloodshed.

      In the correspondence between Mu'awiya and Hasan that led to the abdication, it is interesting to note that Mu'awiya brushed aside Hasan's objections that Mu'awiya had no precedence in Islam and indeed was the son of the most prominent opponent of Islam by asserting that the situation between him and Hasan now was the same as that between Abu Bakr and 'Ali after the death of the Prophet, that Mu'awiya's military strength, political abilities and age were of more importance than Hasan's claim to religious precedence. In other words, as Shi'i historians point out, political power was to become the arbitrator of leadership in Islam rather than religious considerations.

      The Kufans, by their wavering, their disunity and their fickleness, had let Hasan down badly, as they had his father 'Ali, and as they were going to do with his brother Husayn some twelve years later. Part of the Kufan army rebelled against Hasan, part of it went over to the Syrians and the rest melted away. Even Hasan's own tent was plundered, he himself wounded. Small wonder then that he felt he had no choice but to abdicate.

      Mu'awiya needed Hasan's abdication to lend some plausibility and justification to his own seizure of power; a mere military victory would not have been enough. Therefore, he was happy to offer Hasan generous terms including general amnesty for Hasan's followers, a large financial settlement for Hasan himself, and, according to some accounts, a further condition that the Caliphate would revert to Hasan on Mu'awiya's death.

      Hasan, after his abdication in 41/661, retired to Medina and led a quiet life. He refused to involve himself in any political activity — which was a very pragmatic action, in that although delegations came to him to offer him their support if he would rise up, Mu'awiya had such a firm grip on the Empire that any uprising would have been doomed to failure. And, in any case, Hasan had given his word and signed an agreement.

      Hasan died in 49/669 at the early age of forty-six. It is stated by the Shi'i historians and confirmed in some of the Sunni histories that he was poisoned by his wife at the instigation of Mu'awiya. Certainly nothing could have suited Mu'awiya's purposes more since it paved the way for his plan to ensure the succession of his son, Yazid. Hasan was buried in Medina in al-Baqi' cemetery next to his mother, Fatima.

Husayn, the Third Imam

      After Hasan, his younger brother Husayn became the head of the House of 'Ali and according to the Shi'is, the Third Imam. Abu 'Abdu'llah Husayn ibn 'Ali, who is given by Shi'is the title Sayyid ash-Shuhada (Prince of Martyrs), was born in Medina in 4626. The great love of the Prophet for his two grandsons has been referred to in the previous section and, according to some reports, 'Ali preferred Husayn to Hasan.

      While his brother Hasan was alive Husayn played a secondary role, but after the death of his brother he became the head of the family and the focus of the aspirations of the Kufans, who were growing increasingly restive under the stern Syrian rule. While Mu'awiya ruled, however, Husayn made no move, considering himself bound, it is said, by the terms of Hasan's treaty with Mu'awiya.

      The Umayyads had instituted the public cursing of 'Ali from the pulpit, motivated, it is said, by a desire to provoke staunch Shi'i elements into open revolt. The first to fall foul of this policy was Hujr ibn 'Adi al-Kindi. He raised a revolt in Kufa in 51/671. The revolt was easily overcome and Hujr with six of his companions were executed in Damascus by Mu'awiya. These seven are regarded by Shi'is as the first of their martyrs.

      Mu'awiya died in 60/680, but prior to his death he had arranged for his son, Yazid, to succeed him. If the rule of Mu'awiya, the son of the Prophet Muhammad's most powerful enemy in Mecca, had been offensive to some pious Muslims, the accession of Yazid, a drunkard who openly ridiculed and flouted the laws of Islam, was an outrage. In Kufa the people began to stir once more and soon letters and messengers were arriving in Medina urging Husayn to come to Kufa and assume leadership there.

      Because of pressure from the Governor of Medina to declare allegiance to Yazid, Husayn had moved from Medina to Mecca and it was from there that he sent an emissary, his cousin Muslim ibn 'Aqil, to Kufa to assess the situation. On Muslim's arrival in Kufa, large meetings were held at which thousands pledged their support for Husayn.

      Despite the enthusiastic reports sent by Muslim, Husayn was warned by several persons against going to Kufa whose inhabitants had proved so fickle in their support of his father and brother, but Husayn decided to press on and left Mecca in the company of some fifty armed men and a number of women and children.

      But the situation was changing rapidly in Kufa. Yazid, fully aware of the situation, had instructed the energetic 'Ubaydu'llah ibn Ziyad to take control of Kufa. 'Ubaydu'llah had instigated a reign of terror, dealing harshly with any manifestations of revolt. He had reinforced these measures by threatening the tribal leaders with death if their tribes were found to be fomenting rebellion. These measures had already resulted in Muslim being captured and executed and now 'Ubaydu'llah assigned military units to all the routes to Kufa from the south in order to intercept Husayn.

      Although Husayn received warnings of the state of affairs in Kufa, he pressed ahead, declining alternative proposals that would have ensured his safety. A few of his supporters succeeded in slipping out of Kufa and joining up with his forces but others were arrested and the vast majority of Kufans were overtaken with either terror of 'Ubaydu'llah's sword or greed for 'Ubaydu'llah's money and forgot their pledges of support for Husayn.

      It fell to al-Hurr at-Tamimi, the young commander of a military detachment numbering one thousand, to intercept Husayn's party as it approached Kufa. Al-Hurr's instructions were to prevent Husayn approaching any town or village in Iraq and he explained this to Husayn. The latter replied by showing him the sackful of letters from the people of Kufa that he had received. Seeing that al-Hurr's men were overcome with thirst, Husayn magnanimously offered them water from his party's supplies and later al-Hurr and his men lined up behind Husayn as he led them in prayer.

      Eventually after negotiations Husayn agreed to proceed in a direction away from Kufa while al-Hurr sent for further instructions. Husayn's party travelled on, shadowed by al-Hurr's detachment until they reached the plain of Karbala. It was the second day of Muharram in the year AH 61 (2 October 680). On the following day some four thousand men under 'Umar ibn Sa'd arrived with instructions from 'Ubaydu'llah that they should not allow Husayn to leave until he had signed a pledge of allegiance to Yazid. Ibn Sa'd's men surrounded Husayn's party and even cut them off from the river which was their only source of water.

      Husayn began negotiations with Ibn Sa'd pointing out that he had no desire to initiate bloodshed and asking to be allowed to withdraw to Arabia. But ibn Sa'd refused to relent, having been promised by 'Ubaydu'llah the governorship of Rayy if he accomplished his mission. Meanwhile the situation in Husayn's camp was becoming desperate due to shortage of water.

      Then 'Ubaydu'llah sent his final orders through Shimr (or Shamir). ibn Sa'd was either to attack Husayn immediately or hand over command to Shimr. On the evening of 9 Muharram, ibn Sa'd drew up his forces and advanced them towards Husayn's camp, ready for battle the next day. That night, Husayn addressed his companions, asking them to withdraw and leave him to face the enemy. They refused to desert him.

      And so there dawned the fateful day of 10 Muharram AD 61 (10 October 680), which is known as 'Ashura.[4] At dawn Husayn once more approached the camp of the Umayyads and addressed them with such emotive words that several were visibly moved and al-Hurr at-Tamimi, who had first intercepted Husayn, threw in his lot with Husayn's tiny band and was one of the first to fall when the fighting began.[5]

      Husayn's companions on that day are traditionally said to have numbered 72 armed men (18 of the family of 'Ali and 54 supporters) and the women and children. The fighting appears to have been of a sporadic nature consisting of single combat and brief forays. The steady fire maintained by the Umayyad archers on Husayn's camp took its own toll. One by one Husayn's supporters fell and then the members of his family until only he and his half-brother 'Abbas, the standard-bearer on that day, were left of the fighting men. 'Abbas was killed trying to obtain water for the thirsty women and children and the army converged on the lone figure of Husayn.

      Carrying his infant son in his arms, Husayn pleaded for water for the babe but an arrow lodged in the baby's throat killing him. As the troops closed around him, Husayn fought valiantly until at last he was struck a severe blow that caused him to fall face down on the ground. Even then the soldiers hesitated to deal the final blow to the grandson of the Prophet until Shimr ordered them on, and, according to some accounts himself came forward and struck the blow that ended Husayn's life.

      The Umayyad army looted the tents, decapitated the bodies of all Husayn's companions and raised these on spears to lead their procession back to Kufa. The women and children who had been taken prisoner included 'Ali, the only surviving son of Husayn, who had been too ill to participate in the fighting.

      At Kufa 'Ubaydu'llah convened a great assembly and ordered the head of Husayn to be brought to him on a tray and also the captives. When the head was placed before him, 'Ubaydu'llah struck the lips with his cane and taunted the captives. Some of those witnessing this scene were intensely moved and one of them spoke up saying: 'Remove your cane from those lips, for, by God, many a time have I seen the lips of the Prophet of God on those lips.'[6]

      Zaynab, the sister of Husayn, bore herself with dignity and answered 'Ubaydu'llah firmly and fearlessly. At first, 'Ubaydu'llah wanted to put 'Ali to death also, but Zaynab protested, saying: 'O ibn Ziyad! You have spilt enough of our blood', and then she put her arms around 'Ali's neck and said: 'By God! I will not be parted from him, and so if you are going to kill him, then kill me with him.'[7] And so 'Ubaydu'llah imprisoned the captives and after a while sent them on to Damascus with the head of Husayn.

      At Damascus Yazid gloated over the head of Husayn and insulted 'Ali and Zaynab. Later, however, no doubt fearing that a popular outcry night threaten his throne, Yazid sought to appease the captives and released them, allowing them to return to Medina.

      Thus ended the tragedy of Karbala. It has been given here in detail, because, of all the episodes of Islamic history, it has had a greater impact than any on the Shi'a down the ages. A brief consideration must be given to the question of Husayn's intentions and ambitions in setting out for Kufa. Some historians have dismissed it as mere political adventuring that went wrong, but, of course, Shi'i historians disagree.

      Husayn had received plenty of warning of the collapse of the Shi'i revolt in Kufa as he approached Iraq. Indeed, the Shi'i histories record that at one of the staging-posts on the journey, after receiving grim news from Kufa, Husayn addressed his companions and told them of the death and destruction that awaited them ahead. Husayn could, at this point, have retired to Medina or even have accepted the offer which was made to him of refuge in the mountain strongholds of the Tayy tribe. However, he refused these courses of action and even addressed his companions urging them to leave him as he pressed on towards Kufa and certain destruction.

      [Husayn's] action has been interpreted by Shi'i writers as an act of self-sacrifice resulting from a desire to jolt the consciences of the Muslims and to reactivate the ethos of the Islamic community as created by Muhammad, an ethos which was in danger of being submerged by the worldliness of the Umayyads.[4] Some Western writers, however, have tended to look upon Husayn as an ill-fated adventurer who misjudged the reliability of Kufan promises and over-estimated his own inviolability as the grandson of the Prophet. But this rather cynical view of Husayn belies some of the historical evidence such as Husayn's refusal to take the safe option of turning back or turning aside to the hills held by his supporters when apprised of the hopelessness of his situation, and his refusal to compromise even when certain death was the alternative.

      A careful study and analysis of the events of Karbala as a whole reveals the fact that from the very beginning Husayn was planning for a complete evolution in the religions consciousness of the Muslims. All of his actions show that he was aware of the fact that a victory achieved through military strength and might is always temporal, because another stronger power can in course of time bring it down in ruins. But a victory achieved through suffering and sacrifice is everlasting and leaves permanent imprints on man's consciousness.

      . . . Husayn prepared his strategy . . . He realised that mere force of arms would not have saved Islamic action and consciousness. To him it needed a shaking and jolting of hearts and feelings. This, he decided, could only be achieved through sacrifice and sufferings. This should not be difficult to understand, especially for those who fully appreciate the heroic deeds and sacrifices of, for example, Socrates and Joan of Arc, both of whom embraced death for their ideals, and above all of the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the redemption of mankind.

      It is in this light that we should read Husayn's replies to those well-wishers who advised him not to go to Iraq. It also explains why Husayn took with him his women and children, though advised by ibn 'Abbas [his father's cousin] that should he insist on his project, at least he should not take his family with him. Aware of the extent of the brutal nature of the reactionary forces, Husayn knew that after killing him, the Umayyads would make his women and children captives and take them all the way from Kufa to Damascus. This caravan of captives of Muhammad's immediate family would publicise Husayn's message and would force the Muslims' hearts to ponder on the tragedy. It would make the Muslims think of the whole affair and would awaken their consciousness. This is exactly what happened. Husayn succeeded in his purpose. It is difficult today to evaluate exactly the impact of Husayn's action on Islamic morality and way of thinking, because it prevailed. Had Husayn not shaken and awakened Muslim consciousness by this method, who knows whether Yazid's way of life would have become standard behaviour in the Muslim community endorsed and accepted by the grandson of the Prophet. No doubt, even after Yazid kingship did prevail in Islam, and the character and behaviour personal lives of these kings was not very different from that of Yazid, but the change of thinking which prevailed after the sacrifice of Husayn always served as a line of distinction between Islamic norms and the personal character of the rulers.[8]

      It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact and importance of the martyrdom of Husayn for Shi'is. Although it was the usurpation of 'Ali's rights that is looked upon by Shi'is as the event initiating their movement and giving it intellectual justification, it was Husayn's martyrdom that gave it its impetus and implanted its ideas deep in the heart of the people. To this day it is the martyrdom of Husayn that is the most fervently celebrated event in the Shi'i calendar. During the first ten days of Muharram, the whole Shi'i world is plunged into mourning. For details of the observances during this time see pp. 240-43.

      Above all, the martyrdom of Husayn has given to Shi'i Islam a whole ethos of sanctification through martyrdom. Although the Shi'is were persecuted all through their early history and, according to their traditions, every single one of the Imams suffered martyrdom, it is above all the martyrdom of Husayn that has given this characteristic to Shi'i Islam; a characteristic that recent events in Iran have demonstrated to be as strong as ever.

      In later years a shrine was built over this spot. The first shrine was destroyed by the 'Abbasid Caliph Mutawakkil in 235/850 and the site ploughed over. After the death of this Caliph, a shrine of some sort was again erected but the bulk of the present shrine probably dates from the time of 'Adudu'd-Dawla, the Buyid prince, 369/979. The building was subjected to several further depredations including having the dome burnt down in the 11th century and the whole town of Karbala was sacked by the Wahhabis in 1801 and by the Ottoman army under Najib Pasha in 1843. The last important restoration of the shrine was carried out at the behest of Nasiru'd-Din Shah in the 1850s when the dome was gilded and other important structural work carried out. The enclosed are around the shrine is called the Ha'ir and is forbidden to non-believers.

      Until recent political changes made this impossible, it was customary for important men in Iran to have their bodies brought to Karbala to be buried there and enormous graveyards around the town attest to this custom.

'Ali, Zaynu'l-'Abidin, the Fourth Imam

      Abu Muhammad 'Ali ibn Husayn, known as Zaynu'l-'Abidin (the ornament of the worshippers) and also by the titles as-Sajjad (the prostrator) and az-Zaki (the pure), is regarded as the Fourth Imam by Twelver Shi'is. He had been born in the year 38/658[9] in Medina. His father was the Third Imam, Husayn, and, according to Shi'i tradition, his mother was Shahrbanu, the daughter of Yazdigird, the last Sassanian king of Iran.

      From what is recorded of Zaynu'l-'Abidin's life, it would appear that he led a very secluded pious life with only a handful of close associates. It is recorded that he spent a great deal of time weeping over the martyrs of Karbala. His name as-Sajjad (the prostrator) bore witness to the numerous times that he prostrated himself before God and it is said that the resulting calluses on his forehead needed to be shaved down twice a year.

      Although he kept himself apart from the people and although much of the support of the Shi'is was diverted to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, there is no doubt that Zaynu'l-'Abidin was held in great respect by all.

      According to various sources, Zaynu'l-'Abidin died in 94/712 or 95/ 713 aged either fifty-seven or fifty-eight. He was buried in al-Baqi' cemetery. According to Shi'i historians he was poisoned on the orders of the reigning Caliph, Walid, or his brother Hisham.

Muhammad al-Baqir, the Fifth Imam

      Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Ali, known as al-Baqir ('the splitter-open' i.e. of knowledge; also said to mean 'the ample' in knowledge) was born in 57/676. His mother, Fatima, was a daughter of the Second Imam Hasan. Thus, al-Baqir joined in himself the two lines of descent from Fatima and 'Ali. He was about thirty-seven years of age when his father died.

      Like his father, Muhammad al-Baqir was politically quiescent and refrained from openly putting forward any claim. As during his father's time with ibn al-Hanafiyya, there was a rival claimant for the allegiance of the Shi'is during al-Baqir's time. This was al-Baqir's half-brother Zayd, who advocated a more politically active role for the Imam and was prepared to accommodate to a certain extent the view-point of the majority of Muslims by acknowledging the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and 'Umar and by accepting their legal practices.

      As with the other Imams, Shi'is claim al-Baqir as a martyr but there is no concurrence as to the manner of his death, some saying he was poisoned by Hisham, others that it was Ibrahim ibn Walid who arranged his death He was about fifty-seven years old at the time of his death and lies buried at al-Baqi' cemetery in Medina.

Ja'far as-Sadiq, the Sixth Imam

      Abu 'Abdu'llah Ja'far ibn Muhammad known by the title as-Sadiq (the truthful) was the eldest son of Muhammad al-Baqir, while his mother was a great-granddaughter of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. His date of birth is variously given as 80/699, 83/702 or 86/705. He was therefore about thirty-seven years old when his father died. Apart from the First Imam 'Ali, no other Imam of the Twelver line achieved as great a renown in the Muslim world for piety and learning as Ja'far as-Sadiq did in his own lifetime. Many of those who sat in as-Sadiq's circle of students later went on to become renowned scholars and jurists. Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi School of Law in Sunni Islam, is said to have been one of his students, and Malik ibn Anas, the founder of the Maliki School of Law, was also evidently closely associated with as-Sadiq and transmitted Traditions from him. However, it must not be imagined that more than a few of the thousands of students who are reported to have studied under as-Sadiq were Shi'is or accepted his claim to the Imamate. Indeed, it cannot be certain that he openly advanced such a claim.

      The Imamate of as-Sadiq may be said to consist of two parts. During the first part, while the Umayyads were in power, as-Sadiq taught quietly in Medina and succeeded in establishing his considerable reputation during this phase he was relatively free from molestation by the authorities. Once the 'Abbasids came to power, and particularly during the reign of the second 'Abbasid Caliph, al-Mansur, as-Sadiq began to be harassed. On several occasions he was summoned to Kufa and held in prison, and Shi'i histories describe several attempts by al-Mansur to kill him. Husain Jafri has suggested that it was under as-Sadiq that the doctrine of nass (designation of the Imam by the preceding Imam, see p. 153) as an essential pre-requisite for the Imamate, and the doctrine of 'ilm (the special knowledge of the Imam, see p. 153) were fully developed.[11] This may well have been so, for there was certainly a profusion of claims and counter-claims at this time and it was the doctrine of nass that both distinguished the Twelver line from other 'Alid claimants and also provided the justification for the quietist line taken by these Imams. The doctrine of taqiyya (religious dissimulation) was also developed at this time. It served to protect the followers of as-Sadiq at a time when al-Mansur was conducting a brutally repressive campaign against 'Alids and their supporters. Most authorities agree that as-Sadiq died in 148/765. As usual, Shi'i historians have attributed his death to poisoning, on this occasion by the Caliph al-Mansur.

Musa al-Kazim, the Seventh Imam

      The Seventh Imam of the Twelver Shi'is was Abu'l-Hasan Musa ibn Ja'far known as al-Kazim (the forbearing). He was born in 128/745 (or according to other accounts 120/737 or 129/746) on the road between Mecca and Medina. His mother was a Berber slave called Hamida. He was about twenty years of age at the time of his father's death.

      Throughout the whole of his life, Musa was faced with hostility and harassment from the 'Abbasid Caliphs. During the Caliphate of al-Mansur which overlapped with the first ten years of Musa's Imamate, the opposition was not so intense, but then came the ten years of the Caliphate of al-Mahdi. Spies were planted in Medina to watch for any sign of disloyalty emanating from Musa, and at least once during this period he was arrested, brought to Baghdad and imprisoned for a while. It was, however, during the Caliphate of Harun ar-Rashid that the persecution of 'Alids reached a climax. This Caliph is reported to have had hundreds of 'Alids killed. On one occasion Musa was arrested and brought to Baghdad. The Caliph was determined on his execution but then set him free as a result, it is said, of a dream.

      In the last half of Musa's lifetime, many of the Shi'is who had split off from him at the beginning of his ministry returned their allegiance to him. New followers were gained and important new centres established in Egypt and north-west Africa.

      Since there were rumours among the Shi'a that Musa, the Seventh Imam, would also be the last Imam and would not die but would be the Mahdi, Harun made a public display of Musa's body in Baghdad (this was also to show people there were no marks on his body and that he had not met a violent death). Musa al-Kazim was buried in the cemetery of the Quraysh.

      In later years the Shrine of Musa al-Kazim and of his grandson, the Ninth Imam Muhammad at-Taqi, became the centre of a separate suburb of Baghdad called Kazimayn (the two Kazims) and a shrine has stood over the site of these graves since the time of the Buyid dynasty. The present magnificent shrine dates from the early 16th century when it was built by Shah Isma'il, the Safavid ruler of Iran. The domes were tiled with gold in 1796 by Agha Muhammad Shah, the first of the Qajar dynasty of Iran. They were later retiled by Nasiru'd-Din Shah in the 1850s and most recently in the last decade by the Iraqi government.

'Ali ar-Rida, the Eighth Imam

      Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali ibn Musa, known as ar-Rida (the approved or acceptable) was born in Medina in 148/765. Various names are given to his mother in the historical sources but what is certain is that she was a slave. He was thirty-five years old when his father died.

      It was during the Imamate of ar-Rida that the Caliph Harun ar-Rashid died and the Empire was split between his two sons: Amin, who was born of an Arab mother and controlled Iraq and the West with his Arab vizier al-Fadl ibn Rabi'; and Ma'mun, who was born of a Persian mother and controlled Iran and the East with his Iranian vizier, al-Fadl ibn Sahl. Amin attempted to interfere with the arrangements for the succession that had been agreed upon and soon there was a civil war in which Amin was defeated and Ma'mun's army under the Iranian General, Tahir occupied Baghdad. Ma'mun, however, remained for the time being in Marv in Khurasan.

      It was at this point that Ma'mun suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly summoned 'Ali ar-Rida from Medina to join him at Marv. On ar-Rida's arrival he was appointed, somewhat reluctantly it is said, to be Ma'mun's heir-apparent.

      Whatever may have been the cause of Ma'mun's nomination of ar-Rida (which occurred in the year 201/816 there can be no doubt that it caused a great stir. Everywhere the black standards and uniforms of the 'Abbasids were changed to the green of the 'Alids. In Iraq, the 'Abbasid family rebelled and set up a rival Caliph.

      In order to quell these rebellions, Ma'mun set out with his court and army towards Iraq. At Tus, on the way to Iraq, 'Ali ar-Rida suddenly took sick and died. The year was 203/818. The suddenness of his death has caused most writers to state that he was poisoned and the Shi'i writers accuse the Caliph Ma'mun of doing this out of jealousy for the affection with which the people held ar-Rida, but there were other parties, especially the deposed 'Abbasids, who had reason to hate ar-Rida.

      'Ali ar-Rida was buried near the tomb of Harun ar-Rashid near Tus. A tomb was built over the grave but this was destroyed and the present building dates from the early 14th century AD when the Mongol Sultan Muhammad Oljeitu converted to Shi'ism and rebuilt the shrine. Most of the elaborate decorative work dates from Safavid and Qajar times and gold tiles were placed on the roof by Shah 'Abbas I (completed in 1016/1607). In AD 1673 an earthquake destroyed the dome of the building and this was repaired by the Safavid Shah Sulayman. The city of Tus was forgotten and a new city called Mashhad (place of martyrdom) grew around the shrine. Shi'i pilgrims flock to this site and there is a prescribed ritual for the pilgrimage. Adjacent to the shrine itself is another magnificent building which is the Mosque of Gawhar-Shad, the wife of Shah-Rukh (see p. 98). This building, completed in 797/1394, is one of the finest in Iran. A number of theological colleges have been built around the shrine, the most famous of which is that of Mirza Ja'far Khan.

Muhammad at-Taqi, the Ninth Imam

      Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Ali, known by the titles at-Taqi (the God-fearing) and al-Jawad (the generous), was born in 195/810. There are differences as to the identity of his mother but most sources seem to state that she was a Nubian slave. Muhammad at-Taqi's father 'Ali ar-Rida had been married to Ma'mun's daughter but no children resulted from that marriage.

      Muhammad at-Taqi was born in Medina and remained there when his father went to join Ma'mun in far-off Marv. He was only seven years old when his father died and he succeeded to the Imamate. His youth became a cause of controversy among the Shi'a, some asking how such a boy could have the necessary knowledge to be the Imam. Shi'i writers have countered such suggestions by relating numerous stories about his extraordinary knowledge at a young age and by referring to the fact that the Qur'an states that Jesus was given his mission while still a child. The Caliph Ma'mun had changed his colour from the 'Alid green back to the 'Abbasid black shortly after arriving in Baghdad but he maintained his friendly attitude towards the Shi'is and the 'Alids and Muhammad at-Taqi was to benefit greatly from this.

      Ma'mun died in 218/833 and was succeeded by his brother, Mu'tasim. Muhammad at-Taqi was summoned back to Baghdad in 220/835 and he died there in that same year. Since most Shi'i writers have felt it necessary to demonstrate that all the Imams were martyred, they have attributed at-Taqi's death to poisoning by his wife, Umm al-Fadl, on the instigation of Mu'tasim. However, there is little evidence of this and Shi'i writers differ among themselves as to how the poisoning was accomplished. Moreover, early Shi'i writers, such as Shaykh al-Mufid have declined to give credence to the story of the poisoning.[13]

      Muhammad at-Taqi was buried in the cemetery of the Quraysh at Baghdad, close to his grandfather. The grave is now contained in the double shrine of Kazimayn.

'Ali al-Hadi, the Tenth Imam

      Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali ibn Muhammad, who is known by the titles al-Hadi (the guided) and an-Naqi (the distinguished), was born in 212/827 or 214/829 in Medina. His mother was a Moroccan slave called Samana. He was seven years old when his father died. Once again the Shi'is were faced with the problem of a child Imam.

      During the remaining years of the Caliphate of Mu'tasim and the five-year Caliphate of Wathiq, al-Hadi and the Shi'is were relatively free and unmolested. All this was to change, however, with the Caliphate of Mutawakkil which began in 232/847. During this reign, both Shi'is and Mu'tazilis (see Glossary) came under an intense persecution. In 233/848 Mutawakkil summoned al-Hadi to Samarra, the new 'Abbasid capital north of Baghdad. Although received hospitably and given a house in which to live, al-Hadi was in reality a prisoner of the Caliph. The quarter of the city where al-Hadi lived was known as al-'Askar since it was chiefly occupied by the army ('askar) and, therefore al-Hadi and his son Hasan are both referred to as 'Askari or together as 'Askariyayn (the two 'Askaris). Al-Hadi lived in Samarra for twenty years, always under the observation of the Caliph's spies. It is reported that at least once Mutawakkil attempted to kill al-Hadi but was frustrated by a miracle. Al-Hadi continued to live in Samarra after the death of Mutawakkil in 247/861 and during the brief reign of Muntasir and the four-year reign of Musta'in until his death in 254/868 during the Caliphate of Mu'tazz. Real power was, by this time, in the hands of the Turkish Generals of the Caliphs and so it is difficult to see what advantage there would have been to the Caliph in poisoning the Imam as most Shi'i histories claim. Shaykh al-Mufid, among the early Shi'i writers, does not state that the Imam was poisoned.[14]

      'Ali al-Hadi and his son Hasan al-'Askari are buried in the twin shrines called 'Askariyayn in Samarra. The first substantial building over this site was constructed by Nasiru'd-Dawla the Hamdanid ruler of Mosul in 333/944. The building was enlarged and ornamentation added by the Buyids and Safavids and the dome was gilded by Nasiru'd-Din Shah Qajar in about 1868.

Hasan al-'Askari, the Eleventh Imam

      The Eleventh Imam was Abu Muhammad Hasan ibn 'Ali, known as al-'Askari on account of his almost life-long detention in Samarra. He was born in 232/846 (or 230/844 or 231/845) in Medina and was therefore only two years of age when his father was summoned to Samarra. His mother was a slave who is named as Hadith.

      Hasan al-'Askari was twenty-two years old when his father gave him a slave-girl who is usually called Narjis or Saqil and who is named as the mother of Muhammad, the Twelfth Imam.

      The period of Hasan's Imamate was brief, only six years. During this time he was under intense pressure from the 'Abbasids and access to him for his followers was restricted. He therefore tended to use agents to communicate with the Shi'is who followed him.

      Hasan al-'Askari died on either 1 or 8 Rabi' al-Awwal 260 (25 December 873 or 1 January 874). The Shi'i histories maintain that he was poisoned by the Caliph Mu'tamid.

Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam

      Abu'l-Qasim Muhammad ibn Hasan, known as al-Mahdi (the guided), al-Muntazar (the awaited), al-Hujja (the proof), al-Qa'im (the one who will arise), Baqiyatu'llah (the remnant of God), is identified as the Twelfth Imam. After the death of Hasan al-'Askari there was a great deal of confusion among the Shi'a, with some saying that al-'Askari had had no son and others asserting that he had (see pp. 59-60). Those who were to go on to become the main body of the Twelver Shi'a believed that Hasan's son Muhammad had gone into occultation. Further details of the Twelfth Imam can be found in Chapter 8.

Chapter 3


      The main trend in Shi'i intellectual life during this period can be summarised as consisting of the integration of philosophy and mysticism (Sufism) into the mainstream of Shi'i thought. The Shi'i theology evolved in this period remains predominant to the present day. There were also important developments during this period in the field of jurisprudence and in the development of the role of the ulama. With the tolerance of the Ilkhanid government and the removal of the 'Abbasid Caliphate, tensions between Sunnis and Shi'is decreased markedly especially in the eastern Muslim world. No longer was the polemic between the two an important part of the writings of the scholars. That is not to say that there was no dispute between the two sects. But even though the great Sunni scholar, ibn Taymiyya, wrote a refutation of one of 'Allama al-Hilli's works, this was combined with respect for his opponent.[8] The majority of Sunni scholars, represented by such figures as Baydawi, refused to enter into the controversy at all.

      This easing of the hostility between the Sunnis and the Shi'is allowed each side to adopt a great deal of the thought of the other. Shi'i ulama such as 'Allama al-Hilli borrowed freely from Sunni methods of dealing with the hadith literature. But the most important results of this rapprochement were the attempts by several Shi'is to bring Sufism into Shi'ism. Even more important in this respect than ibn Maytham was Sayyid Haydar ibn 'Ali Amuli who lived until the closing years of the 8th/14th century in Baghdad. He attempted to bring together Shi'ism and Sufism by stating that Sufis were in reality only Shi'is who were more concerned about the esoteric aspects of religion, while other Shi'is concentrated on the external aspects such as doctrine and religious law. In his principal work on this theme, Jami' al-Asrar (The Compilation of Mysteries), Sayyid Haydar links the names of the prominent early Sufis with the Twelver Imams. He stresses everything in Sufi writings that indicates that divine knowledge was purveyed to the lines of Sufi Shaykhs through the Imam 'Ali, while at the same time emphasising everything in the writings of previous Shi'i ulama in favour of Sufism.

      The rapprochement between Shi'ism and Sunnism was to have an even greater impact on Sunni Islam. Firstly, among Sunnis there developed a tendency to what is called tashayyu' hasan (good or moderate leaning towards Shi'ism). This meant extolling the virtues of 'Ali and condemning Mu'awiya and Yazid but without going to what was considered the extreme of Twelver Shi'ism and rejecting the first three Caliphs and exaggerating the position of 'Ali and the Imams. But, even more importantly, the Sufi orders, which were in the process of being formed into organised schools with chains of successive leaders during this period, also took a pronounced pro-Shi'i turn in their mode of thought and expression. It was an era when the majority of the great Sufi Shaykhs claimed to be descendants of 'Ali — such figures as ar-Rifa'i (d. 578/1182), al-Badawi (d. 675/1276), and ad-Dasuqi (d. 676/1277). Simultaneously, the Sufi concept of the position of the Shaykh came to parallel increasingly the Shi'i Imamate while 'Ali came to occupy almost as important a position in Sufism as he did in Shi'ism. These changes resulted in several Sufi orders gradually evolving from Sunnism to Shi'ism.

      These developments in Sufism and popular religion, important as they may have been for the later evolution in Twelver Shi'ism, were at this stage separate from the mainstream of Twelver Shi'i Islam. Some idea of the geographical spread of Twelver Shi'ism can be obtained from analysis of the geographical origins of the ulama of the period. Table 4 relates to ulama whose deaths occurred during the 7th (1203-1299) and 8th (1300-1396) Islamic centuries.[9]

Chapter 4

The Timurid Period (8th/14th-9th/15th Centuries)

Popular Religion

      Perhaps more important for the further development of Shi'ism than the works of scholars in the field of jurisprudence and theology was the further effort to integrate Sufi thought into Shi'ism. Even the eminent scholar of this period, ibn Fahd, was sympathetic to Sufism and several of his works demonstrate this. But the true successor to Haydar Amuli of the previous century was Muhammad ibn 'Ali al-Ahsa'i known as ibn Abi Jumhur, who died in the opening years of the 10th/16th century. ibn Abi Jumhur was an orthodox Shi'i scholar who studied at Najaf and for a time at Karak-Nuh, the Shi'i centre in the Jabal 'Amil. He continued Amuli's work in integrating Sufism and Shi'ism. But he widened the scope of his endeavours by also attempting to unite and integrate philosophy and Mu'tazili and Ash'ari theology. He tried to show that all of these led to the Sufi concept of existential monism (wahdat al-wujud).

      Among some Sunni scholars of this period there was also a leaning towards Shi'ism. Husayn Wa'iz al-Kashifi, who was a Sunni Traditionist and Qur'an commentator, wrote a book called the Rawdat ash-shuhada (The Paradise of the Martyrs) eulogising the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn in such moving terms that the book was enthusiastically adopted by Shi'is. He also wrote a work on the futuwwa which was another important pro-Shi'i manifestation in Sunnism (see p. 90).

      While there may not have been much of importance occurring among the ulama of Twelver Shi'ism during this period, this was by no means true of Shi'ism among the people. Although it is difficult to distinguish between extreme Shi'ism (ghuluww), Twelver Shi'ism and the pro-Shi'i tendency within Sunni Islam, it is clear that there was a great Shi'i ferment occurring among the people in western Iran, northern Iraq, eastern Anatolia and northern Syria. Into this Shi'i cauldron went the ideas of the Isma'ilis, the Hurufis, the ghulat, as well as the Twelvers. Out of this came a wide variety of movements some of which remained within the mainstream of Islam and some of which moved beyond it. The 'Alawis (Nusayris) in northern Syria and the Ahl-i Haqq in western Iran became separate sects (see pp. 46-7, 58). The Bektashis were accommodated within the Ottoman Empire as a Sufi order. The Musha'sha' set up as a state in south-east Iran. The Safavids began as a Sufi order but after achieving political power became absorbed into Twelver Shi'ism. All these groups show marked Twelver Shi'i features and, in particular, most of them emphasise devotion to the Twelve Imams.

      Throughout Iran several of the most prominent Sufi orders were evolving in a more Shi'i-orientated direction. The most important of these, from the point of view of the future history of Iran, was the Safavid order of Sufis. This order was founded by Shaykh Safiyu'd-Din (650/1252-735/1334) in Ardibil in north-west Iran during the Ilkhanid period. He was a Sunni and during his lifetime became sufficiently influential to include most of the inhabitants of Ardibil among his disciples. He was probably of Kurdish or Turkoman origin but the later Safavid kings concealed their ancestry so as to claim descent from the Seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim. Shaykh Safiyu'd-Din was succeeded by his son, grandson and great-grandson who each maintained this Sufi order in much the same orientation and were highly respected by the Jalayir and Timurid rulers. By the end of this period the order had greatly extended its influence, having disciples in most parts of Iran, Iraq, Anatolia and even in some parts of Syria. It was still at this time an orthodox Sunni order.

      Nineteenth-century orientalists used to assert that Shi'ism was an Iranian innovation within Islam. As a reaction to this, more recent writers have emphasised the fact that the early Shi'a were Arabs and that the majority of the Iranians were Sunnis until the advent of the Safavid dynasty. However, this later trend has tended to belittle the significance of Iranian Shi'i centres such as Qumm, which were important from the beginning of the emergence of Shi'ism, and also the importance of such early Iranian scholars as ibn Babuya and Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa. Moreover, although it is true that the majority of Iranians were Sunnis until the advent of the Safavids, this fact conceals the large number of Shi'is in Qumm, Rayy, Kashan and much of Khurasan. It also conceals the important pro-Shi'i influence of Sufi orders such as the Kubrawiyya, who were predominant in east Iran, and the craft-guilds in the cities, which were modelled on the futuwwa. These must have played a key role in preparing the populace for the acceptance of Shi'ism under the Safavids.


      In Sunni Islam, Sufism has, through the Sufi Shaykhs, a major hold on the religious devotion of the masses. But in Shi'ism it has become largely a side-issue, a minority interest. It is the orthodox ulama who hold the religious leadership of the Shi'i community and few of them will have anything to do with Sufism. It is not possible in a work of this nature to undertake a systematic treatment of the mystical and metaphysical ideas of Sufism. And so in this chapter only Sufism in its relationship to Shi'ism and the history of the Shi'i Sufi orders will be considered.

      Although most histories of Sufism go back to individual ascetics such as Hasan al-Basri and Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya who lived in the centuries immediately after the Prophet, Sufism as it is known today, with its organised orders and their hierarchies and rituals, dates from the 12th and 13th centuries AD.

      The roots of this organised Sufism have a complex inter-relationship with the Shi'ism of the 12th to 14th centuries AD. Shi'ism achieved political power over almost all of the Islamic world in the 10th and 11th centuries. Then in the middle of the 11th century the Seljuqs came to power and severely repressed Shi'ism. It has been suggested that Sufism, in its organised form, arose at about this time to fill the vacuum left by the suppression of Shi'ism.[1] Certainly there is a great deal of similarity between Shi'ism and many aspects of Sufism which would tend to support this thesis.

      One of the most important doctrines of Sufism is the concept of the Perfect Man (al-Insan al-Kamil). This doctrine states that there always must exist upon the earth a man who is the perfect channel of grace from God to man. This man who is called the Qutb (Pole or Axis, of the Universe) is considered to be in a state of wilaya (sanctity, being under the protection of God). It can already be seen that there are great similarities between the concept of the Qutb in Sufism and the Shi'i Imam. Indeed, many of the Traditions referring to the Imam are also to be found among Sufis in relation to the Qutb: there can only be one Qutb on the earth at any one time; anyone who dies without recognising the Qutb of his time has died the death of the Jahiliyya; only recognition of the Qutb confers true belief, etc.[2]

      The authority to teach the Sufi path has been handed down from master (Qutb, Shaykh, Murshid or Pir) to pupil (Murid, Talib, Salik) through the generations. Most of these 'chains' of authority (silsila) traditionally go back through various intermediaries to 'Ali who among Sufis is considered to have received initiation into mystical truth from Muhammad. Thus among certain Sufi orders there has been a tendency to glorify 'Ali. This tendency (as has been noted in Chapters 5 and 6) may well have helped to prepare the people of Iran during the 14th and 15th centuries for accepting Shi'ism under the Safavids.

      However, it is precisely this closeness in certain areas between Shi'ism and Sufism that has led to antagonism among Shi'i ulama towards Sufism. The concept of the Qutb (who for most Sufi orders is the head of the order) as the purveyor of spiritual guidance and of God's grace to mankind is in direct conflict with the concept of the Imam who in Shi'ism fulfils this role. The vow of obedience to the Shaykh or Qutb which is taken by Sufis is considered incompatible with devotion to the Imam. Indeed, for Shi'is, the Twelfth Imam, who is alive and only in occultation, is the living Qutb and there can only ever be one Qutb upon the earth at any one time.

      There are several other reasons for the antagonism of the ulama towards Sufism: the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud (existential monism) is considered to be blasphemous; the chains of authority of even the Shi'i Sufi orders do not include all twelve of the Shi'i Imams, rather they progress through the first eight Imams, but after 'Ali ar-Rida they diverge through Ma'ruf al Karkhi to other individuals; the zakat is paid by members of the order to the head of the order and not to the ulama.

      The Shi'i Sufi orders have sought to bring their ideas more closely into line with orthodox Shi'i opinion. Thus, for example, the head of the order is often referred to as the Na'ib-i Imam (deputy of the Hidden Imam). But even this modification is not acceptable to the orthodox who regard themselves as the Na'ib-i Amm (general deputy) of the Twelfth Imam while no Na'ib-i Khass is permissible during the Greater Occultation (see p. 165).

      Historically (as has been shown in Chapter 5) several Sufi orders became increasingly oriented towards Shi'ism during the 15th century but it was not until the Safavid order become Shi'i and conquered Iran that several orders such as the Nurbakhshi, Dhahabi and Ni'matu'llahi became openly Shi'i.

Philosophy, Hikma and 'Irfan

      The goal of philosophy is considered to be the achievement of wisdom (hikma). Philosophers (hukama) have traditionally been divided into two groups: the Masha'iyun (peripatetic philosophers) who consider that wisdom is to be achieved by intellectual effort and rational processes; and the Ishraqiyun (illuminationist philosophers) who consider that true wisdom is best gained through spiritual discipline, the cleansing of the soul from all defilement and the acquisition of virtues.

      Also closely associated with hikma is irfan (gnosis or mystical knowledge). Although the Shi'i ulama have been opposed to Sufism for the reasons stated above, 'irfan is much more acceptable. It includes many of the ideas and much of the technical vocabulary of Sufism but divests itself of the features which the ulama find most objectionable: the formal structure of the orders, initiation, the murshid-murid (i.e. spiritual master to pupil) relationship, dhikr (repetitive recitations), concepts such as wahdat al-wujud (existential monism), etc.

      Typical works in the field of 'irfan deal with bringing out the inner, esoteric meaning of the Qur'an based on the process of ta'wil (bringing out of the spiritual meaning) rather than tafsir (technical commentary) of the verses. It is thus a very intellectual activity and can perhaps be better described as esotericism in contrast to the ecstatic mysticism of the Sufis.

      In this form mysticism has managed to retain a foothold within the curriculum of teaching in the Shi'i religious colleges but very much on the periphery. Interestingly, Ayatu'llah Khumayni taught 'irfan in Qumm prior to his expulsion in 1963.

      A movement that has had a great deal of influence on Shi'i thought is what is called Hikmat-i Ilahi. It can be thought of as the philosophical analysis and description of the mystical path. The name itself, Hikmat-i Ilahi, can be translated as Divine Wisdom, Divine Philosophy or Theosophy. It has also gone under the name of Hikmat-i Muta'aliyya which can be translated as Transcendent Theosophy.

      The school of philosophy called Hikmat-i Ilahi represents the culmination of the endeavour to bring together and harmonise the three major sources of spiritual knowledge in the Islamic experience: the revealed and transmitted sources which revolve around the Qur'an and Traditions; the conclusions drawn from the rational analysis of religion; and intuitive and ecstatic spiritual illumination. The roots of this movement go back to the earliest period of Islam and extend beyond Shi'ism itself. Its culmination and flowering was in the School of Isfahan (see pp. 112-13).

      Foremost among the influences on this movement was, of course, the Qur'an itself and in particular the ta'wil (esoteric interpretation or spiritual hermeneutics) of the Qur'an that is to be found in the corpus of the Traditions ascribed to the Shi'i Imams. Indeed, some of the most important works of the philosophers of this school consist of commentaries upon the Traditions of the Imams.

      The field of speculative theology (kalam) had, in previous centuries, been a major area of intellectual activity and the writers of the School of Isfahan were influenced not only by Shi'i kalam which had found its fullest expression in the works of Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din Tusi but also by the Mu'tazili kalam upon which earlier Shi'i theology had been based, as well as the Ash'ari kalam of Sunnism which had reached its culmination in the works of such figures as al-Ghazali, Fakhru'd-Din Razi and Sa'du'd-Din Taftazani.

      One of the most important influences on the Hikmat-i Ilahi movement was Shaykhu'l-Ishraq Shihabu'd-Din Suhrawardi (executed in Aleppo in 587/1191). His work in turn drew upon several inter-related strands: the revival of Zoroastrian angelology, Neo-Platonic cosmology, and in particular the metaphysical works of ibn Sina (Avicenna). From these sources and from direct spiritual experiences, Suhrawardi created the Ishraqi philosophy or the philosophy of oriental (in its metaphysical sense) illumination, a description of ecstatic and mystical experience in the context of philosophical concepts.

      A similarly important source of influence upon the School of Isfahan was the gnostic mysticism of Muhiyu'd-Din, ibn al-'Arabi, Shaykh al-Akbar (560/1165-638/1240). His metaphysical doctrines, which were to evolve within his school into such concepts as the Perfect Man (al-Insan al-Kamil) and existential monism (wahdat al-wujud), exercised a great influence on all aspects of Islamic mysticism.

      Sufism itself was one of the most important sources of inspiration for Hikmat-i Ilahi. Not only were several individual philosophers of this school themselves members of Sufi orders (and in particular the Nurbakhshi order), but there is frequent quotation in the writings of these philosophers from the great Iranian Sufi poets such as Jalalu'd-Din Rumi and 'Abdu'r-Rahman Jami.

      The Hikmat-i Ilahi philosophers were, of course, familiar with the philosophy of both the Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic traditions found in the writings of the Greek philosophers as well as the early Muslim philosophers such as ibn Sina (Avicenna) and al-Farabi.

      The full flowering of Hikmat-i Ilahi in the School of Isfahan in the 17th century was preceded by a number of similar preliminary works. Mention has been made elsewhere in this book of the work of Sayyid Haydar Amuli in bringing together Shi'ism and Sufism. There is also the important work of ibn Abi Jumhur who attempted an integration of philosophy, kalam and Sufi concepts into Shi'ism thereby laying an important foundation for the School of Isfahan. As a further example there is the work of Sa'inu'd-Din, ibn Turka Isfahani (d. 835/1431 or 836/1432) who integrated many of the themes of Suhrawardi and ibn al-'Arabi into his writings.

      As an example of the metaphysical system of this school and to demonstrate its links with other avenues of Islamic thought, the following is a brief analysis of the four journeys described by Mulla Sadra in Al-Hikmat al-muta'aliyya 'l-asfar al-'aqliyya al-arba'a (The Transcendental Theosophy concerning the Four Journeys of the Rational Soul). This work concerns the four journeys: from the creatures to the True One; from the True One to the True One; from the True One to the creatures; and from the creatures to the creatures.

      The first journey is described as being the path whereby man detaches himself from the physical world and his carnal self (nafs) and rending the veils that intervene between him and the Divine Beauty reaches the station of Annihilation in the Divine. In this 'journey' Mulla Sadra gives an exposition of metaphysics and ontology dealing with several philosophical issues.

      The second journey is described as being the path along which the traveller contemplates and comes to know and understand the Divine Names and Attributes. This is the station of sainthood in which the traveller comes to hear with His hearing, sees with His sight and is thus totally annihilated in the Divine Essence, Actions and Attributes. In this 'journey', Mulla Sadra discusses a number of philosophical questions such as creation ex nihilo, substance, quantity, quality and the receptivity of things to the Divine Grace.

      The third journey involves the termination of Annihilation (fana) and the start of Subsistence (baqa) in God. This is the state of the prophets (but not those prophets that bring laws). In this state, the traveller is able to travel through all the worlds of creation and to see all these worlds in their essence and exigencies. In this 'journey', our author deals with God in His Essence, His Names and Attributes, discussing such subjects as divine will, fate, evil and God's knowledge.

      The fourth journey is among the creatures but now the traveller, who is in the station of a prophet who brings laws, sees all beings in their essence and knows of the manner of their return to God and so is able to give them guidance. In describing this 'journey', Mulla Sadra deals with the soul and its development and with the question of the resurrection and other eschatological matters.[8]

Chapter 5

The Nineteenth Century

Political Developments under Fath 'Ali Shah and Muhammad Shah

      The Qajars were one of the Turkoman tribes who supported Isma'il, the first Safavid monarch, in his conquest of Iran. They were rewarded by being given extensive fiefdoms and, on this basis, became one of the most important elements in Iran until, in 1794, Agha Muhammad defeated the last of the Zand dynasty and two years later was crowned as Shah. His reign was only to last for one further year before he was assassinated by two of his servants whom he had condemned to death on the following day. He had by that time, however, consolidated his rule over all Iran and had recaptured Georgia. The reign of his nephew and successor, Fath 'Ali Shah (d. 1834), was marked by two disastrous campaigns against Russia in 1804-13 and 1828 in which Iran lost all its Caucasian provinces. Apart from Russia, Iran also came into close contact during this period with other European powers such as England and France.

      Fath 'Ali Shah deferred greatly to the Shi'i ulama. This was probably partly due to genuine piety and partly due to the Qajar dynasty's need to establish its own legitimacy (see p. 194). Fath 'Ali Shah, apart from numerous pilgrimages to Qumm and Mashhad, spent much money on the repair and embellishment of these shrines as well as those in Iraq. As well as making large disbursements to the ulama, he built a number of mosques and religious colleges (madrasas) and, in particular, he rebuilt the Madrasa Faydiyya, the foremost college at Qumm. The Qajars had made Tehran their capital and Fath 'Ali Shah tried to induce some of the prominent ulama to come and take up residence there in order to give the new capital prestige. However, Tehran never became an important religious centre in the way that Isfahan had been in Safavid times. This fact is probably a reflection of the changed relationship between the government and the ulama (see below).

      Fath 'Ali Shah, the progenitor of a record number of offspring, was succeeded by his grandson, Muhammad Shah (reigned 1834-1848). After suppressing a number of contenders for the throne, Muhammad Shah had an unremarkable reign during which he was dominated by his Prime Minister, Hajji Mirza Aqasi. Muhammad-Shah was much attracted to Sufism and Hajji Mirza Aqasi was his Sufi guide. There was a sharp reversal of policy during this reign in that Muhammad Shah favoured Sufis and expended money on their shrines, neglecting the ulama.

      Much more important during the Qajar era was the emergence of the Shaykhi movement. Shaykh Ahmad ibn Zaynu'd-Din al-Ahsa'i (1753-1826), the founder of the Shaykhi movement, was a prominent Shi'i scholar of al-Ahsa, who had studied under Bahru'l-'Ulum, Kashifu'l Ghita and the other prominent ulama of Iraq. In the second decade of the 19th century, Shaykh Ahmad looked set to become the leading Shi'i scholar of his generation, and as he travelled around Iran he was accorded the highest honours by princes, ulama and even the Shah. Shaykh Ahmad, however, had a number of views which were considered heterodox by some of the ulama. A fuller description of Shaykhi doctrine is given elsewhere in this book (see pp. 225ff.), but for the purposes of this chapter it will suffice to describe Shaykh Ahmad's views as being in the tradition of the Hikmat-i Ilahi of the School of Isfahan (see pp. 2 1719). Had Shaykh Ahmad lived two centuries earlier, his ideas would have been included in the corpus of that school and no movement separate from the main body of Twelver Shi'ism would have resulted. However, in the intervening period, figures such as Majlisi and Bihbahani had considerably narrowed the field of Shi'i orthodoxy. And so, when Shaykh Ahmad came into conflict with some of the ulama, they responded as Bihbahani had done with the Akhbaris, by pronouncing takfir (declaration of being an unbeliever) against him. This takfir was first pronounced in 1822 by Mulla Muhammad Taq Baraghani of Qazvin (he was later killed by a Shaykhi in 1847). After this other ulama confirmed the pronouncement but it is interesting to note that none of the contemporary ulama of the first rank such as Mulla Ahmad Naraqi, Shaykh Musa the son of Kashifu'l-Ghita, Mulla 'Ali Nuri, Haul Muhammad Ibrahim Kalbasi and Haul Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Shafti supported the takfir.[18] Indeed, it was not until after Shaykh Ahmad's death in 1826, under his successor, Sayyid Kazim ibn Qasim Rashti (d. 1259/1843), that any real separation can be said to have occurred between the Shaykhis and the main body of Twelver Shi'is. Certainly it was not the wish of Shaykh Ahmad or Sayyid Kazim to create a separate movement, but Twelver Shi'ism was no longer a sufficiently broad church to retain them. Indeed, the ulama used the Shaykhi controversy to further refine and narrow the orthodox position.

      The reign of Muhammad Shah saw the start of the Babi movement. In 1844 Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad of Shiraz, who took the title of Bab (Gate, 1819-1850), began to put forward his claims (see p. 231). At first he commanded his followers to observe the Muslim Shari'a and there was little conflict with orthodox Islam. But in 1848, shortly before Muhammad Shah's death, the Bab declared that the Qur'an and Muslim Shari'a were abrogated and a new religious dispensation with a new holy book and a new Shari'a had begun. This was to result in conflict between his followers and the ulama and government during the next reign.

      Throughout the course of the 18th century, Sufism had reasserted itself in Iran and remained a major preoccupation of the ulama for the first few decades of the 19th century. The thrust against Sufism begun by Bihbahani at the close of the 18th century was continued vigorously. Bihbahani's son, Aqa Muhammad 'Ali, even became known as Su-S-kush (Sufi-slayer) on account of the number of Sufis he caused to be killed; these included Ma'sum 'Ali Shah and Muzaffar 'Ali Shah, two of the leading Ni'matu'llahi Sufi Shaykhs.

      There was a marked change in the relations between the ulama and the state during the reign of Muhammad Shah who, as noted above, had a predilection for Sufism. Indeed, the revolt of Husayn 'Ali Mirza, Farman-Farma, in Isfahan at the start of this reign received the support of Hajji Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Shafti, probably because Farman-Farma had no such pro-Sufi proclivities and supported the ulama.9 During this reign, it was no longer possible for the ulama to persecute the Sufis as they had during the previous reign. But although Sufism made progress among the royal family and government circles, it failed to make any significant headway among the people.

      The most important development of this period was, however, the emergence of the ulama into the political sphere. Although prominent members of the ulama had been influential at the local level since Safavid times and had, on occasions, even caused the dismissal of a Governor, and although the ulama of the late Safavid period exercised a remarkable degree of independence and even defiance of the government, it was not until the reign of Fath 'Ali Shah that the ulama entered the field of politics at the national level. Fath 'Ali Shah's marked deference to the ulama and his need of them to underpin the legitimacy of his dynasty no doubt contributed to this.

      There was a marked change in the relations between the state and the ulama in the Qajar period compared with the Safavid era. The Safavids had claimed authority on the basis of being both the 'Shadow of God on Earth' (the ancient Iranian concept of kingship, i. e. temporal authority) and the 'representative of the Hidden Imam' (i.e. spiritual authority), while the leading ulama of the Safavid period had all been incorporated into the state apparatus. The Qajars, however, only claimed the title of 'Shadow of God on Earth' and left the claim of being the 'representative of the Hidden Imam' to the ulama. The major ulama of this period were not only outside the state apparatus, but also most of them resided in Iraq outside the state's jurisdiction. Even when the ulama were appointed to state positions, such as Hajji Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Shafti who was Shaykh al-Islam of Isfahan, they acted independently and often in defiance of the government.

      The most marked instance of the political involvement of the ulama during this period was in the case of the Russo-Iranian Wars. During the first war, 1804-13, Mirza Buzurg, Qa'im-Maqam, the Minister of 'Abbas Mirza, the crown Prince, who was conducting the war, wrote to the ulama of Iraq and Isfahan to obtain fatwas declaring the war against Russia to be jihad (holy war). Many of the prominent ulama, such as Shaykh Ja'far Kashifu'l-Ghita and Mulla Ahmad Naraqi, responded to this request and issued such fatwas. This first Russo-Iranian War ended in defeat for Iran and the Treaty of Gulistan in 18 13 stripped her of all her Caucasian provinces.

      In the years after the war, reports began to reach the ulama of ill-treatment by the Russians of their newly-conquered Muslim subjects. The ulama began to agitate for jihad. Fath 'Ali Shah was reluctant but when, in 1826, he set out for his summer residence in Sultaniyya he was followed there by Aqa Sayyid Muhammad Tabataba'i of Karbala (a son of Sayyid 'Ali Tabataba'i), Mulla Ahmad Naraqi, Mulla Muhammad Taqi Baraghani of Qazvin and a number of other prominent ulama, who demanded that Fath 'Ali Shah declare war on Russia. The ulama were in fact threatening to take control of the affairs of government and launch the jihad themselves if Fath 'Ali Shah would not do this. They issued fatwas declaring the jihad to be obligatory and opposition to it a sign of unbelief (kufr). Fath 'Ali Shah was pressured into acquiescing. The outcome of the second Russo-Iranian War was as disastrous as the first. Although the ulama supported the troops in battle initially, after the first reverses they withdrew and it was indeed one of their number, Mir Fattah, who betrayed Tabriz into the hands of the Russians.[20] As the result of the treaty of Turkomanchay, 1828, further territory and a large indemnity were ceded by Iran.

      The importance of the second Russo-Iranian War from the point of view of the ulama, however, was their emergence as a force capable of shaping national policy. This was, indeed, the first of a chain of episodes where the ulama were to have a marked influence on the course of Iranian history. The subsequent links in this chain were to include agitation against Husayn Khan Sipahsalar in 1873, the opposition to the Tobacco Regie in 1891-2, the involvement of the ulama in the Constitutional Movement 1905-9, and culminating in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Political Developments under Nasiru'd-Din and Muzaffaru'd-Din Shahs

      The long reign of Nasiru'd-Din Shah, from 1848 to 1896, was marked by several important events. It began with a bloody suppression of the Babi movement in the years 1848-52 under Nasiru'd-Din Shah's first Prime Minister, Mirza Taqi Khan (executed 1852). There were a number of attempts at reforming and modernising Iran, the most notable of which were undertaken by Mirza Taqi Khan until his downfall in 1851 and Husayn Khan Sipahsalar in 1871-3. Hand-in-hand with modernisation came increasing penetration of Iran by Europeans. The Shah, desperate for revenue, farmed out many of the resources of the country in the form of concessions to European consortiums. The most extensive of these was the Reuter concession of 1872 which granted the monopoly of the working of the nation's mines, construction of railways and the national bank to Julius de Reuter, a naturalised British subject. This concession, which became an embarrassment to the British government, was eventually annulled over a minor technicality, but another concession, the monopoly of tobacco production and sale in 1890-52, aroused great public indignation and will be dealt with later in this chapter. The last years of Nasiru'd-Din Shah's reign saw an increasing political ferment among Iranians with many issues such as nationalism, Pan-Islamism and modernisation being the focus of attention. It was an adherent of Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din Afghani's Pan-Islamism who ended Nasiru'd-Din Shah's reign with an assassin's bullet in 1896. Nasiru'd-Din Shah does not appear to have inherited his father's Sufi proclivities and showed himself to be religiously devout in an orthodox way although somewhat fond of an excessive display of ceremony and ostentation in respect to religious occasions, which was frowned upon by the ulama. He went on pilgrimages to Mashhad and the shrines in Iraq and paid for the gilding of the domes of the shrines at Qumm, Shah 'Abdu'l-'Azim, Karbala and Samarra. He was not, however, subservient to the ulama in the way Fath 'Ali Shah had been but rather pursued an independent line that on occasions brought him into conflict with the ulama.

      Nasiru'd-Din Shah was succeeded by his son, the mild and inoffensive Muzaffaru'd-Din Shah. Muzaffru'd-Din, while Crown Prince in Tabriz, had been suspected of being under the influence of the Shaykhis but once on the throne he does not appear to have shown any outward heterodoxy. The principal event of his reign was the build-up of increasing pressure for a constitutional government. The ulama became leading voices in this movement.

The Ulama during the Reigns of Nasiru'd-Din and Muzaffaru'd-Din Shahs

      The years of Nasiru'd-Din Shah's reign saw important hierarchical developments among the ulama. Najaf remained at first the undisputed centre of the Shi'i world and it has already been noted that Shaykh Muhammad Hasan NajafI had almost succeeded before his death in 1850 in concentrating in himself the authority of marja' at-taqlid for the entire Shi'i world.

      It was also during this period that a number of the ulama of Iran became extremely wealthy. Apart from their income from donations and pious benefactions, some of these ulama were not averse to such practices as hoarding grain during famines and then selling them at vastly inflated prices to a starving populace. In these ways, such figures as Mulla 'Ali Kani of Tehran and Aqa Najafi of Isfahan became very rich.[23]

      The second half of the 19th century saw the ulama coming more and more into political issues. Their principal concerns now became identified with national issues. These included the response to the Babi movements and Shaykhism, increasing involvement in criticising the running of the government, increasing concern with the penetration of Iran by Europeans, and the issues of Pan-Islamism, modernisation and the Constitutional Movement.

      Although both Shaykhism and the Babi movement began in previous reigns, the most violent opposition to these movements began in Nasiru'd-Din Shah's reign and continued on into the 20th century. It was the ulama who took the lead in condemning the Bab and his followers. In Baghdad in 1845 the Governor, Najib Pasha, convened a court of some of the most prominent Sunni and Shi'i ulama who issued a joint fatwa declaring the Bab's writings to constitute unbelief (kufr). In Kirman, Hajji Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani, the Shaykhi leader, was one of the first to voice his opposition to the Bab and, in Qazvin, Mulla Muhammad Taqi Baraghani, who had been the first to condemn the Shaykhis, now also preached against the Babis.

      In two of the major armed conflicts between Babis and the government troops (at Shaykh Tabarsi in Mazandaran in 1848-9 and at Zanjan in 1850), it was the ulama who initiated the conflict by preaching against the Babis and rousing the population against them. However, it was the government who undertook the responsibility of carrying out the attempt to suppress the new religion. Following an attempted assassination of the Shah in 1852 there was a particularly brutal suppression of the Babis. The movement was driven underground but was to re-emerge decades later as the Bahá'í religion under the leadership of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-92). Throughout the rest of the 19th century the ulama, in particular, initiated sporadic outbursts of persecution against the Bahá'ís. Particularly active in this respect were Shaykh Muhammad Baqir, a mujtahid of Isfahan (d. 1883) and his son Shaykh Muhammad Taqi, known as Aqa Najafi (d. 1914). Thus in Isfahan between 1864 and 1914 there were thirteen violent episodes of persecution. Adharbayjan, Tehran, Khurasan, Fars and Yazd saw other major persecutions against the Bahá'ís. It was principally due to Aqa Najafi, but instigated by the Imam-Jum'a of Yazd, that a particularly violent outbreak of persecution of the Bahá'ís occurred in Yazd in 1903, leaving over a hundred Bahá'ís dead. These persecutions continued into the 20th century and have intensified since the 1979 Revolution.

      The Shaykhis too were subjected to persecution at the instigation of the ulama during this period. The major disturbances occurred in Kirman in 1878 and 1904-5, in Hamadan in 1897 and in Tabriz in 1848, 1868 and 1903.

      Nasiru'd-Din Shah's first Prime Minister, Mirza Taqi Khan, was too strong and single-minded to allow the ulama to interfere too much in the processes of government, but under his successors the ulama resumed their gradual encroachment onto the field of national politics. In 1873 the ulama played a leading role in overthrowing the Prime Minister, Mirza Husayn Khan, whose European-inspired modernisation they both feared and resented.

      The most important example of the ulama's involvement in the political sphere during Nasiru'd-Din's reign was in the agitation leading up to the repeal of the Tobacco Concession in 1891. Whereas in previous confrontations between the ulama and the state, the nation as a whole had been largely uninvolved, in this episode the ulama became the leaders of the people in a protest that involved the entire nation. A tobacco monopoly concession was granted to a British syndicate in 1890 and the company began its work in 1891. Almost immediately there was an outcry against the company. The ulama led the protests but the people themselves bitterly resented the concession and rioted in support of the ulama's demands for its abrogation. Then in December 1891 a fatwa was distributed purporting to be from Mirza-yi Shirazi, the marja' at-taqlid the entire Shi'i world. This fatwa forbade the use of tobacco and was universally obeyed throughout the country. The concession thus became valueless and was eventually withdrawn by the Shah in order to quell the general agitation. The ulama had won this major confrontation with the Shah and now realized the full extent of their political power. The episode itself was to be but a prelude to the ulama's involvement in the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-9.

      One other political issue that concerned the ulama during this period was the Pan-Islamic Movement. This was the proposal put forward most vigorously by Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din Afghani (Asadabadi, 1838-97) that the entire Muslim world unite under the Caliphate of the Ottoman Sultan and thus resist more effectively the encroachment of the West. Although this proposal occasioned lively debate, Afghani does not appear to have been successful in obtaining the support of any of the prominent Shi'i ulama and the whole question gradually subsided following Afghani's own death in 1897.

      With the increasing contacts with Europe during this period, the ulama became very concerned at the rate and degree to which Western ideas and technology were being introduced into Iran. Some of these ideas, such as the notion of a constitutional government, were in parallel with the ulama's aims and were pronounced to be compatible with (and even derived from) Islam. Even some of the new technology such as the telegraph which gave better access to the mujtahids in the shrine cities to Iraq, came to be accepted. But, for the most part, the ulama were against change and particularly Western ideas and technology. They resisted and resented the increasing European penetration of the country with respect to trade and with respect even to the administration of the country. They attributed this to the corruption and venality of the Qajars and therefore put their influence behind the movement to limit the Shah's authority by means of a constitution.

The Popular Religion

      The 19th century saw important changes in the popular religion for the generality of the Shi'a. It saw the ulama and particularly the mujtahids pushing their way more forcefully into the lives of the ordinary Shi'i through the doctrine of taqlid and the rise of the marja' at-taqlid. From being at the periphery of the life of the believer and only involved in such social transactions as marriage, death and inheritance, the ulama were able to thrust themselves into the centre of the life of the believer, insisting that even in the ordinary actions of everyday life it is necessary for a devout believer to turn to the marja' at-taqlid for advice and guidance and as a model to be imitated.

      In parallel with this development, the people began increasingly to look to the ulama as their leaders and their voice vis-d-vis the government. This role of the ulama, which had begun during the Safavid period, was greatly expanded in the Qajar era. The home of the mujtahid became a frequent place of sanctuary (bast) for persons being pursued by the authorities. When the populace wished to protest against an oppressive Governor or an unpopular government policy, it was to the ulama that they turned to voice their dissatisfaction. The ulama, being financially independent of the government and relatively immune from its pressure, were able to criticise it with impunity. This role of the ulama reached its climax in the opening years of the 20th century in the Constitutional Revolution.

      The religious fervour of the masses was fanned by the increasing use of Rawda-khani, the recital of Husayn's sufferings, and by the introduction of the ta'ziya, a highly-stylised enactment of the Karbala tragedy. The Qajars encouraged this development by the erection of buildings (takiyyas) for the performance of these plays which were put on during Muharram (see pp. 240-42). Several of the Shi'i Holy Days such as the birth of the Imam 'Ali, Imam Husayn and the Twelfth Imam as well as the commemoration of the day of Ghadir were declared as public holidays by Nasiru'd-Din Shah.

Chapter 6


On the Imamate

      The Sunni concept of leadership of the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet, the Caliphate, is essentially a temporal leadership. The Caliph is a first among equals, elected ideally by consensus, although later the hereditary principle became the norm. To others, the theologians and experts in jurisprudence, is given the task of expounding upon religious questions.

      To the Shi'is, however, the succession to the Prophet is a matter of the designation by the Prophet of an individual ('Ali) as Imam. Each Imam designates his successor during his lifetime. The authority of the Imam derives from his designation by his predecessor to a spiritual station and is independent of his temporal standing, i.e. it makes no difference to the Imam's station whether he is acknowledged by the generality of Muslims or not, whereas this quite clearly does not apply to a Sunni Caliph whose station is totally dependent on such acknowledgement.

      The Sunnis and Shi'is are basically in agreement with each other over the nature and function of prophethood. The two main functions of the Prophet are to reveal God's law to men and to guide men towards God. Of these two functions, the Sunnis believe that both ended with the death of Muhammad, while the Shi'is believe that whereas legislation ended, the function of guiding men and preserving and explaining the Divine Law continued through the line of Imams.

The Continuity of the Imamate

      As can be seen from the above, the Imamate, as conceived in Shi'i theology, is not an institution confined to Islam. From the time of the first prophet Adam, there has been a continuous succession of Imams. Some figures, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad have combined in themselves the function of prophethood and the Imamate but at no time is the earth left without an Imam who is the Guide (Hadi and Proof (Hujja) of God. Thus the Fifth Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, is reported as having said: 'By God! God has not left the earth, since the death of Adam, without there being on it an Imam guiding (the people) to God. He is the Proof of God to His servants and the earth will not remain without the Proof of God to his servants.[1] The Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq, is reported as having said: 'Were there to remain on the earth but two men, one of them would be the Proof of God.[2]

      A much longer saying attributed to the Fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir, states that Jabir asked him: 'Why is the Prophet and the Imam necessary?' He answered:

      So that the World may remain in righteousness. Thus God withholds chastisement from the World while a Prophet or Imam is upon it, for God has said: 'God will not chastise them while you are among them' (Qur'an 8:33) and the Prophet has said: 'The stars are safety for the people of heaven and the members of my family are safety for the people of the earth. If the stars went there would come to the people of heaven, something hateful to them. And if the members of my family went, there would come to the people of earth, something hateful to them.' By 'members of my family' is meant the Imams. And God has linked obedience to them to obedience to Him and He has said 'O believers, obey God and the Apostle and those possessed of authority among you' (Qur'an 4:59). And they are the sinless, the pure ones who do no wrong and do not rebel and they are the ones who give help and success and right guidance. Through them God gives sustenance (rizq) to his servants and through them his lands prosper, and the rain falls from heaven and the earth gives out its blessing and the rebellious people are granted a respite and their penalty and chastisement does not speedily come to them. The Holy Spirit does not leave them (the Imams) and they do not leave it, nor does the Qur'an leave them and they do not leave it. May the blessing of God be upon them all.[3]

      Some Shi'i Traditions even give the names of all the Imams going back from Muhammad to Adam.

The Station of the Imams

      Muhammad, Fatima and the Imams are conceived in their mystical dimension as being a light that God created before the creation of the material world. This light then became the cause and instrument of all the rest of creation. The following Tradition is attributed to the Prophet: 'God created 'Ali and me from one light before the creation of Adam . . . then He split (the light) into two halves, then He created (all) things from my light and 'Ali's light.'[5]

      The First Imam, 'Ali, is reported to have said: 'God is one; He was alone in His singleness and so He spoke one word and it became a light and He created from that light Muhammad and He created me and my descendants (i.e. the other Imams), then He spoke another word and it became a Spirit and He caused it to settle upon that light and He caused it to settle on our bodies. And so we are the Spirit of God and His Word. . . and this was before He created the creation.[6]

      And the Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq, is reported to have said: 'Our light separates from our Lord like the rays of the sun from the sun.'[7] In the Khutba at-Tutunjiyya, 'Ali is reported to have said: 'I am the First and I am the Last; I am the Hidden and I am the Manifest; I was with the Universal Cycle before it began; I was with the Pen and the Tablet before they were created; I am the Lord of Pre-eternity.[8]

      This light, created by God, which is the inner essence of the Imams, descended in turn upon Adam and then upon each of the Prophets and Imams until it became embodied in Muhammad, Fatima and the twelve Imams.

      Muhammad, Fatima and the Imams are created out of the substance of 'Illiyyun.[9] There is some difference of opinion among the commentators as to what exactly is meant by 'Illiyyun (see Qur'an 83:19) but Shi'is generally consider that it is a synonym for an elevated station, the Seventh Heaven, or the Farthest Tree (Sadrat al-Muntaha.[10] The word itself is almost certainly derived from the Hebrew 'elyon meaning the highest.

      The Imams are assisted by God through the Holy Spirit. The Third Imam, Husayn, was asked: 'From what stems your authority?' He replied: 'le rule by the authority of the House of David, and if we lack anything then the Holy Spirit sends it to us.[11]

      Although the consensus of the Shi'is is that the full prophetic revelation (wahy) that came to Muhammad and the other apostles of God (such as Moses and Jesus) did not come to the Imams, nevertheless some of the Shi'i scholars have allowed that a lesser form of wahy did come to the Imams. This type of wahy is explained in a Tradition ascribed to Muhammad al-Baqir, the Fifth Imam: 'It is not the wahy of prophethood but, rather, like that which came to Mary, daughter of 'Imran (see Qur'an 3:45) and to the mother of Moses (Qur'an 28:7) and to the bee' (Qur'an 16:68).[12] In any case, if there is disagreement among the Shi'i scholars on the question of wahy, there is no disagreement on the fact that the Imam received inspiration (ilham) from God. The following is attributed to Muhammad al-Baqir, the Fifth Imam: "Ali used to act in accordance with the book of God, i.e. the Qur'an, and the Sunna [example or Tradition] of His Apostle [i.e. Muhammad] and if something came to him and it was new and without precedent in the book or the Sunna, God would inspire him.[13]

      In some of the Traditions the link between God and the Imams is visualised as being a pillar of light descending from heaven upon the Imam.

      The difference between the apostles, the prophets and the Imams is summarised thus in a saying attributed to the Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq:

      An apostle is one who sees the Angel who comes to him with the message from his Lord. He speaks with him just as one of you would speak with your companion. And the prophet does not see the Angel but revelation (wahy) descends upon him and he sees (the Angel) in a vision . . . and the speaker (al-muhaddith, i. e. the Imam[14]) hears the voice but does not see anything.[15]

      The Imam is the Proof of God (Hujjat Allah) to mankind and the Sign of God (Ayat Allah) on Earth. Indeed, 'Ali is reported to have said: 'God has no greater sign than me.16 The Imam is the successor of the Prophet and the Vicar of God on Earth. All political authority and sovereignty is his. Obedience to him is obligatory to all on Earth. The Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq, is reported to have said:

      We are the ones to whom God has made obedience obligatory. The people will not prosper unless they recognise us and the people will not be excused if they are ignorant of us. He who has recognised us is a believer (mu'min) and he who has denied us is an unbeliever (kafir) and he who has neither recognised nor denied us is in error unless he returns to the right guidance which God has made obligatory for him. And if he dies in a state of error, God will do with him what He wishes.[17]

      The Imam has, according to tradition, certain books in his possession. These include certain books of the Prophet: Al-Jafr (The Divination), As-Sahifa (The Book); Al-Ja-mi' (The Compilation); another is the Book of Fatima (Mashaf Fatima), a book revealed by Gabriel to Fatima to console her on the death of her father, the Prophet. Also with the Imams is a copy of the Qur'an written by 'Ali and containing 'Ali's commentary.

      The Imam has knowledge of one of the great mysteries in Islam, the Greatest Name of God. Indeed, it is through his knowledge of this that he has been given his powers:

      Our Lord has given to us knowledge of the Greatest Name, through which were we to want to, we would rend asunder the heavens and the earth and paradise and hell; through it we ascend to heaven and descend to earth and we travel to the east and to the west until we reach the Throne (of God) and sit upon it before God and He gives us all things, even the heavens, the earth, the sun moon and stars, the mountains, the trees, the paths, the seas, heaven and hell.18

The Twelfth Imam, His Occultation and Return

      Perhaps no aspect of the history of Shi'i Islam is as confused as the stories relating to the Twelfth Imam and this is not surprising as this is the point in Shi'i history where the events related become of a miraculous, extraordinary nature and the non-believer may be unwilling to go along with the facts as related by Shi'is. But even for the committed believer, it is difficult to decide which of the many and often contradictory versions presented in the Traditions to follow. The following version is the one that is usually presented in the books published for popular reading.

      The mother of the Twelfth Imam was a Byzantine slave-girl named Narjis Khatun (or Saqil or Sawsan or Rayhana). In the more fully elaborated versions of the story she becomes the Byzantine Emperor's daughter who was informed in a vision that she would be the mother of the Mahdi. She was bought by the Tenth Imam, 'Ali al-Hadi, for his son the Eleventh Imam, Hasan al-'Askari.

      The Twelfth Imam was born in 255/868 (some sources vary by as much as five years from this date) in Samarra. He was given the same name as the Prophet, Abu'l-Qasim Muhammad.

      The usual miraculous accounts of his talking from the womb, etc. (see p. 23) may be passed over to the only occasion on which he is said to have made a public appearance. This was in 260/874 when the Eleventh Imam died. It appears that none of the Shi'i notables knew of the birth of Muhammad and so they went to the Eleventh Imam's brother, Ja'far, assuming that he was now the Imam. Ja'far seemed prepared to take on this mantle and entered the house of the deceased Imam in order to lead the funeral prayers. At this juncture a young boy came forward and said: 'Uncle, stand back! For it is more fitting for me to lead the prayers for my father than for you. ' After the funeral,Ja'far was asked about the boy and said that he did not know who the boy was. For this reason, Ja'far has been vilified by generations of Shi'is as Kadhdhab, the liar.

      The boy was seen no more and Shi'i tradition states that from that year he went into occultation. At Samarra, beside the gold-domed Shrine of the Imams 'Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-'Askari is a mosque under which there is a cave. The end of one of the rooms of the cave is partitioned off by a gate which is called Bab al-Ghayba (Gate of the Occultation) and was built on the instructions of the Caliph an-Nasir in 606/1209. The area behind the gate is called Hujrat al-Ghayba (Chamber of the Occultation) and in the corner of this is a well, the Bi'r al-Ghayba (Well of the Occultation) down which the Imam Mahdi is said to have disappeared. Shi'is gather in the rooms of the cave and pray for his return.

The Lesser Occultation

      Those Shi'is who followed the line of the Imams were thrown into confusion by the death of Hasan al-'Askari. Ja'far remained unshakeable in his assertion that his brother had no progeny and some gathered around him as the Imam. Others asSerted that the Twelfth Imam had not yet been born but would be born in the Last Days just before the Day of Judgement. Others asserted that it was the Eleventh Imam, Hasan al-'Askari, who had gone into occultation. Thus the Shi'a were fragmented into several factions (for a fuller account of these sects see pp. 59 60). It is difficult to assess at this distance in history and with the bias of the sources available what proportion of the Twelver Shi'is of the time accepted the position of 'Uthman al-'Amri which was to become the orthodox Twelver position. Al-'Amri claimed that Muhammad, the son of Hasan al-'Askari, did exist and was in occultation and that he, 'Uthman, was the intermediary between the Hidden Imam and the Shi'a.

      But it should not necessarily be assumed that 'Uthman al-'Amri's assertion was perceived by the Shi'is of the time as being a radical change. For, after all, the Tenth and Eleventh Imams, as far as the generality of their followers were concerned, had also been in effective occultation. Because of the vigilant and hostile surveillance of the 'Abbasids, they had rarely showed themselves to their followers and are even said to have spoken to some of those who met them from behind a curtain. Their contact with their followers was through a network of Shi'i agents called the Wikala which had been responsible for communicating the messages of the Imams and collecting the monies offered by the Shi'a. This network of agents was in contact with one or two special agents of the Tenth and Eleventh Imam who in turn were in direct contact with the Imam. 'Uthman al-'Amri had been the secretary and special agent of the Tenth and Eleventh Imams and thus effectively controlled the Wikala. With the death of the Eleventh Imam, all that al-'Amri was saying was that the Twelfth Imam was also in hiding due to the threat against his life from the 'Abbasids and that he, 'Uthman, had been appointed to continue the position that he had held under the previous Imams. For the majority of the Shi'a it must have seemed that nothing much had changed. It is probably only after about seventy years (i.e. the normal life-span of a man) had passed that the question of the Occultation became problematical (see pp. 74-5) and began to require doctrinal exposition. Thus al-Kulayni, who completed his book (see p. 174) less than seventy years after the start of the Occultation has little or no discussion of the Occultation itself or of the position of al-'Amri and his successors as intermediaries and neither do any of the extant Shi'i books preceding it. A few decades later, however, it is a topic of major importance to most Shi'i writers and whole books are devoted to the issue.

      'Uthman nominated his son, Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Uthman, as his successor. For forty-five years these two laid claim to the position of being the agents of the Hidden Imam. They would take messages and questions from the Shi'a to the Hidden Imam and would return with answers, usually verbal but sometimes written. They would also receive the monies offered by the Shi'a to the Imam as khums and zakat (see p. 179). They were involved in bitter disputes with Ja'far and his followers who denied the existence of the Eleventh Imam's son and laid claim to his brother's estate — a legal battle that took seven years and was finally decided by the Caliph al-Mu'tamid. Narjis, the supposed mother of the Twelfth Imam, was also the subject of much wrangling that went on over twenty years.

      The third person to be nominated as the agent of the Hidden Imam was Abu'l-Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh an-Nawbakhti. He came to this position in 305/917, after the death of Muhammad al-'Amri. Conditions had changed considerably by this time. The Caliph Muqtadir (reigned AD 907-932) was favourable to the Shi'a and the Nawbakhti family, who were Shi'is, wielded considerable power at his court as ministers. However, even at this late date there were disputes among the Shi'a over the question of the Occultation. Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Ali ash-Shalmaghani (executed in 322/933), who had been a close confidant of Husayn ibn Ruh and his agent in Baghdad, suddenly turned against the latter and at first laid claim to the position of being the rightful agent of the Imam and later denounced the whole concept of the Occultation as a lie. Another who fell out with what was rapidly by now becoming the Twelver Shi'i orthodoxy was Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (c. 244/8 5 8 executed 309/922). Exactly what it was that Shalmaghani and Hallaj said or did which brought upon them the anger of the Shi'is and eventually, through the power of the Nawbakhti family, death at the hands of the state cannot now easily be discerned among the mass of gratuitous accusations and disinformation piled upon them by later writers. It has been suggested, however, that their open avocation of extremist claims (ghuluww) was threatening the delicate balance which allowed Shi'i families such as the Nawbakhtis and the Al al-Furat to hold power and authority in a Sunni state and thus allowed Shi'is to enjoy unprecedented freedom. It is clear that whatever differences there may have been among the Shi'a following the death of the Eleventh Imam in 874, by the third and fourth decades of the 10th century (i.e. the closing years of the Lesser Occultation), the majority of the Shi'is were agreed about the line of Twelve Imams. There was still confusion and doubt over the question of the Occultation and this was to continue for a further hundred years. It was also during this period that the first of the four 'canonical' collections of hadith, al-Kafi fi 'Ilm ad-Din, was being completed by al-Kulayni thus helping to bring about a convergence and consolidation of views among the Twelver Shi'is.

      The fourth and last agent of the Hidden Imam was Abu'l-Husayn 'Ali ibn Muhammad as-Samarri. He held office for only three years and died in 329/941. These four successive agents of the Hidden Imam are each called by the Shi'is the Bab (Gate, plural Abwab), the Safir (Ambassador, plural Sufara) or Na'ib (Deputy, plural Nuwwab) of the Twelfth Imam.

      At the time of his death, as-Samarri brought the following written message from the Hidden Imam:

      In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate! O 'Ali ibn Muhammad as-Samarri, may God magnify the reward of your brethren upon you! There are but six days separating you from death. So therefore arrange your affairs but do not appoint anyone to your position after you. For the second occultation has come and there will not now be a manifestation except by the permission of God and that after a long time has passed, and hearts have hardened and the earth become filled with tyranny. And there will come to my Shi'a those who claim to have seen me, but he who claims to have seen me before the emergence of the Sufyani and the cry (from the heavens) is assuredly a lying imposter. And there is no power nor strength save in God the Almighty, the All-High.'

      And so the Shi'is passed, in 329/941, into what is known as the Greater Occultation, the period of time when there is no agent of the Hidden Imam on earth.

      One final historical point is that although the history of the four agents of the Hidden Imam has been given above as it is to be found in the Shi'i histories, there is some considerable evidence that this was a later superimposition of interpretation On the facts of history. In the early works there is no indication that the number of agents was limited to four and several others are mentioned.2 It seems likely, then, that after the death of the Eleventh Imam, for the duration of a natural lifespan (i.e. seventy years), the former system of the Wikala had continued to operate. But then the Shi'is began to be thrown into confusion and doubt over the matter of the Occultation.3 And so the scholars of the early Buyid period spent a great deal of time in writing books explaining and proving the doctrine of the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam. It was probably also at about the end of the Lesser Occultation that the Twelfth Imam came to be identified with the figure of the Mahdi.

The Doctrine of Occultation

      In its simplest form, the doctrine of the Occultation (Ghayba) declares that Muhammad ibn Hasan, the Twelfth Imam, did not die but has been concealed by God from the eyes of men. His life has been miraculously prolonged until the day when he will manifest himself again by God's permission. During his Lesser Occultation, he remained in contact with his followers through the four Ba-bs (al-Abwa-b al-Arba'a). During the Greater Occultation, which extends to the present day, he is still in control of the affairs of men and is the Lord of the Age (Sahib az-Zaman) but there is no longer a direct route of communication. However, it is popularly believed that the Hidden Imam does still occasionally manifest himself to the pious either when awake or more commonly in dreams and visions. It is believed that written messages left at the tombs of the Imams can reach him. The Hidden Imam was popularly supposed to be resident in the far-off cities of Jabulsa and Jabulqa and in former times books were written about persons who had succeeded in travelling to these places. Less has been made of this particular tradition in recent times when modern geographical knowledge permeated the Shi'i masses and it became generally realised that no such places existed. There are also accounts of persons who have seen the Imam in person, in visions or dreams.[4]

      The occurrence of the Occultation is considered to have been due to the hostility of the Imam's enemies and the danger to his life. He remains in occultation because of the continuance of this threat. The severance of communication with the Hidden Imam is not considered to contradict the dictum that 'the earth is not left without an Imam', for, say the Shi'i writers, the sun still gives light and warmth to the earth even when hidden behind a cloud.

      The Hidden Imam has a large number of titles including the following: Sahib az-Zaman (Lord of the Age), Sahib al-Amr (Lord of Command), al-Mahdi (the Rightly-Guided One), al-Qa'im (He who will arise), al-Imam al-Muntazar (the Awaited Imam) and the Baqiyyat Allah (Remnant of God).

The Doctrine of Return (Raj'a)

      The Hidden Imam, the Imam Mahdi, is in occultation awaiting the time that God has decreed for his return. This return is envisaged as occurring shortly before the final Day of Judgement. The Hidden Imam will then return as the Mahdi with a company of his chosen ones and there will also return his enemies led by the one-eyed Dajjal and the Sufyani. The Imam Mahdi will lead the forces of righteousness against the forces of evil in one final apocalyptic battle in which the enemies of the Imam will be defeated.

      The Imam Mahdi will rule for a number of years and after him will come the return of Christ, the Imam Husayn and also the other Imams, prophets and saints. Strictly speaking, the term raj'a only applies to the return to life of figures who have died such as the Imam Husayn. It is more correct to refer to the zuhur (appearance) or qiyam (arising) of the Twelfth Imam who did not die and is in occultation. Return is envisaged by Shi'is as involving only the Imams, their supporters and their enemies. Those who were neutral in or unaffected by the struggle will remain in their graves until the Day of Resurrection.[5]

Chapter 7

Doctrines and Practices Specific to Shi'ism

      In the field of doctrines, Shi'is have placed doctrines specific to themselves in parallel with those accepted by Sunnism.

      The field of jurisprudence may be divided into ritual observances ('ibadat) and social transactions (mu'amalat). As far as the former are concerned, Shi'ism does not differ much from the four schools of Sunnism. But with respect to social transactions (e. g. marriage, inheritance, etc.) there are more marked divergences. Shi'is have, however, tended to highlight their differences from Sunnis, even in the field of ritual observances, by emphasising parallel rituals that are specific to Shi'ism.

1. Shi'i Doctrines

      In the matter of doctrines, as has already,been demonstrated, Shi'is place along side the unity of God, God's justice which they define in such a way as to set it apart from the same Sunni concept. Parallel to the doctrine of prophethood, Shi'is place the Imamate, while even with such a powerful concept as the Day of Resurrection, Shi'is displace its importance by emphasising the Return of the Twelfth Imam and focusing the attention of the believers on this event (see Chapter 8).

2. Prayers

      The Friday prayer has never held the same importance among Shi'is as it has among Sunnis. With the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam who is the true leader of the Friday prayer, the significance of this observance is diminished. In most Shi'i centres, although the Friday prayer is performed, it does not attract the large numbers seen in other Muslim communities. But this situation has ›hanged in Iran since the 1979 Revolution (see p. 298).

      In addition to the obligatory prayerS, Shi'is have a large number of prayers, revealed by the Imams, which are for use either on special occasions such as the Ramadan fast or are purely devotional in nature. This type of prayer is known as du'a or munajat.

3. Visiting Shi'i Shrines (Ziyarat)

      The pilgrimage to Mecca was, until reCent times, beyond the means of the majority of Shi'is resident in Iran and Iraq. It was an expensive and often hazardous journey. Therefore, the custom of visiting the shrines of the Imams was built up as an alternative parallel activity given an importance which in the eyes of the ordinary believer often appeared to exceed that of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Visiting the Shrines of 'Ali at Najaf, Husayn at Karbala, the Seventh and Ninth Imams at Kazimayn, of Imam Rida at Mashhad and of Fatima Ma'suma, the sister of the Imam Rida, at Qumm, became an important activity in Shi'i religious life and one in which comparatively humble persons could participate. In the 19th century (and to a lesser extent among the older generation today), it became customary to designate persons who had visited the Shrines at Karbala and Mashhad by such prefixed titles as Karbila'i and Mashhadi, in parallel to the designation of Haul given to those who had performed the pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj). The conferring of these designations appears to vary from area to area depending on the distance to the shrines. Among the Shi'is of southern Iraq, for example, there is no particular designation for visiting the shrines at nearby Karbala and Najaf but a visit to distant Mashhad confers upon the pilgrim the designation Za'ir (visitor). Similarly, in Khurasan and Afghanistan, visiting Mashhad does not confer a title, but the visitor to Karbala becomes Karbila'i.

      Elaborate rituals were drawn up for the performance of the visitation of the shrines, again in parallel to the ritual of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Part of this ritual includes recitation of the prayer of visitation (Ziyarat-Nama). Popular manuals, in particular those written by Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, helped to spread this practice among the people.

      Visiting the shrines of minor Shi'i saints and, in particular, the descendants of the Imams, also became an important activity with each shrine having its own prayer of visitation. These shrines (called Imamzadas) are to be found in large numbers in Iran, especially in the areas around Qumm, Tehran, Kashan and Mazandaran which have been Shi'i from the earliest times and therefore tended to be a refuge for 'Alids who were often being persecuted in other parts of the Muslim world. Visiting these minor shrines has become an activity for a day out.

4. Temporary Marriage (Mut'a)

      Marriage for a fixed term and usually for a pre-determined financial arrangement is considered allowable by Shi'is. The marriage may be for any length of time, even for a matter of hours. There is also a period of time after the marriage during which the woman is not supposed to marry again, although there are ways of getting around this latter law. Sunnis do not hold temporary marriage to be allowable and indeed consider it to be mere prostitution but Shi'is maintain it was a practice that was allowed during the Prophet's lifetime and only later prohibited by the second Caliph, 'Umar. There are indeed some hadith in the Sunni literature that tend to confirm this.[7] In Persian, this practice is called sigha and it is also sometimes called nikah al-muwaqqat (temporary marriage). Shi'is consider that the Qur'an refers to this practice (see Qur'an 4:24).

5. Religious Dissimulation (Taqiyya)

      Religious dissimulation while maintaining mental reservation is considered lawful in Shi'ism in situations where there is overwhelming danger of loss of life or property and where no danger to religion would occur thereby. The following Qur'anic verse (16:106) is held to justify this belief: 'Whoever disbelieves in God after believing — except for those who are compelled while their hearts are firm in faith — and then finds ease in his disbelief, upon him will be the wrath of God.' (The section of this verse in italics is held to refer to taqiyya.) Living as a minority among a frequently-hostile Sunni majority, the condition of most Shi'is until the rise of the Safavid dynasty, made such a doctrine important to Shi'is.

6. Divorce (Talaq)

      In general terms, divorce is made more difficult under Shi'i law than under Sunni. Only the stricter divorce according to the Sunna (talaq as-sunna) and not the easier innovated divorce (talaq al-bida') is allowed. As distinct from the Sunni schools, Shi'i law holds that the statement of the divorce formula must be made explicitly, in the presence of two witnesses and is not allowable if made in the state of intoxication or rage. Both Shi'is and Sunnis agree that if a man divorces his wife three times, he cannot marry her again unless she is first married to another. Shi'is, however, do not allow the three statements of divorce to be made on one occasion.

7. Inheritance

            Under Sunni law, where there are males and females equally close in kinship to the deceased, then the inheritance passes to the male in preference to the female. In Shi'i law, however. the presence of male heirs does not exclude the female, although the share of the male is, in accordance with a Qur'anic rule, double that of the female.

      The more accommodating attitude to women expressed in Shi'i law over divorce and inheritance has been attributed to the important position held by Fatima among Shi'is. Fatima's position is crucial for the line of Imams after 'Ali since it is through her that they inherit their link with the Prophet. But for a further analysis of why Shi'i law differs from Sunni law, see p. 184.

Chapter 8

The Evolution of the Role of the Ulama

      Initially during the Buyid period it was considered by the Twelver ulama that since the Imam had gone into occultation and there was no longer present his special representative (Na'ib al-Khass), the four Babs during the Lesser Occultation (see p. 164), all the functions invested in the Imam had lapsed (saqit). The principal functions of the Imam were considered to be:
  1. Leading the Holy War (jihad)
  2. Division of the booty (qismat al-fay)
  3. Leading the Friday Prayer (salat al jum'a)
  4. Putting judicial decisions into effect (tanfidh al-ahkam)
  5. Imposing legal penalties (iqamat al-hudud
  6. Receiving the religious taxes of zakat and khums

      This doctrine of lapse of the functions of the occulted Imam was almost certainly very convenient politically at first, since it established the Twelvers as being non-revolutionary in sharp contrast with the Isma'ilis who, with their Imam-Caliph present in Cairo and their active propaganda, were threatening to destabilise and overthrow the Buyids. Indeed, this consideration may have been one of the principal reasons for the evolution of the doctrine of Ghayba, the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam.[5]

      However, it soon became apparent that the situation caused by the concept of the lapse of functions of the Hidden Imam was extremely impractical and left the Twelver community at a great disadvantage with no leadership, no organisation and no financial structure. Therefore, as early as the 5th/11th century, Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa was reinterpreting the doctrine so as to allow delegation of the Imam's judicial authority to those who had studied fiqh (jurisprudence, these are called the fuqaha), although he implies in his writings that this function should only be undertaken by the ulama if there is no-one else to do it (i.e. that it was a somewhat distasteful task). Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa considered the ulama as the best people to act as agents of the donor in distributing the religious taxes since they knew to whom it should be distributed; but nevertheless individuals were free to do this themselves if they wished. He allowed the fuqaha to organise the Friday prayers in the absence of the Imam or his special representative.6 This last point remained controversial with such figures as 'Alamu'l-Huda, ibn Idris and 'Allama al-Hilli disagreeing.

      By the 7th/13th century, Muhaqqiq al-Hilli (d. 676/1277) was able to advance these concepts very considerably. He extended the judicial role of the ulama to iqamat al-hudud (the imposition of penalties, i. e. by the ulama themselves rather than the temporal authorities). In his writings it is possible to see the evolution in his thinking whereby the fuqaha-develop from being deputies of the donor for the distribution of religious taxes in his early writings to being the deputies of the Hidden Imam for the collection and distribution of the taxes in his later works.[7]

      Thus up to the time of Shahid ath-Thani, the ulama were gradually evolving the theoretical basis of their authority. But the Safavids were too strong and maintained too close a control over the ulama to enable them to put much of this into practice. It was left to the Qajar period, after the victory of the Usulis over the Akhbaris (see p. 127), before the ulama were able to bring most of these theoretical functions into practice. The end of the Safavid dynasty brought about the weakening of the state system of courts with government-appointed judges (qadis) and the mujtahids were able to replace these with Shari'a courts of their own to which people came in increasing numbers, thus enabling the ulama to assert their judicial authority. Thus, one by one, the lapsed functions of the Hidden Imam were being taken over by the ulama. However, there was as yet no claim by the ulama to political authority.

      In summary, it may be said that over some nine centuries, by a process of exegesis and innovative interpretation, the ulama were able to effect a very considerable theoretical consolidation of their authority but in such small stages as to make the process scarcely discernible to each generation and thus to give the impression of there having occurred no change at all. This is not meant to imply, however, that this was a conscious process among the ulama. They were merely responding to social and economic pressure and particularly the advent of the Shi'i Safavid and Qajar states, in such a manner as to maximise both the benefit to themselves and the consolidation of their authority, while at the same time justifying and explaining the social and political realities around them.

The Ulama's Attitude Towards Political Authority

      Sunni Islam developed its constitutional theory in the presence of a Sunni state. Thus the political sphere was incorporated into the doctrine of the religious sphere and religion became one of the main supports of the state. Obedience to the ruler became a religious obligation even if the ruler were unjust, for that was preferable to anarchy. Conversely the judgement of one of the ulama appointed as judge (qadi) would be considered competent only because of his appointment by the government and regardless of his ability, knowledge or sense of justice.

      The development of Shi'i Islam, on the other hand, took place for much of the time with the Shi'is a persecuted minority in a Sunni state. Thus the Shi'is, during their early period, had no need of someone like Mawardi, who in Sunnism integrated the political sphere into the religious sphere.

      All political authority for Shi'is is theoretically vested in the Imam. However, the Imam of the age is occulted and thus his political authority has lapsed. This tendency to depoliticise the Imamate, which was important for the Shi'is in the 4th/10th century, was reinforced during the Ilkhanid and Timurid period when, under the influence of Isma'ili and Sufi thought, the Imam became seen more in terms of a religious saviour, interceding in Heaven with God for men, rather than as a veiled earthly figure. Thus the concept of the Imamate became removed from consideration in the sphere of political authority and became a theological concept. As a result of this, Shi'i Islam did not at this stage evolve any real political theory and the ulama came to regard politics as outside their realm of concern.

      Since legitimacy could not be given nor withheld from any government, temporal authorities came to rely on the pre-Islamic Sassanian Iranian concept of kingship as the basis of their authority and the title 'Shadow of God on Earth' which was adopted by the kings is an expression of that.

      The Shi'is saw themselves as an 'elect' (al-khassa) living among the generality (al-'amma) of the Muslims. The Sunnis were and still are acknowledged as Muslims but only Twelver Shi'ism confers true belief (Iman) and makes one a true believer (mu'min). For Shi'is, the sacred community consisted of the believers with the ulama at their head guiding and directing their actions. All political, administrative and economic matters not directly concerned with the Shari'a and therefore not under the control of the ulama, were outside the concern of the sacred community.

      Thus, whereas Sunnis lived their lives in a system where political affairs were integrated into the sacred community, Shi'is lived simultaneously in two different systems, the sacred community and the profane community. Since the ulama and the political leaders of the community were in fact rivals for the leadership of the people, this not infrequently meant that Shi'is were living in two communities between which there was rivalry and tension.

      For the ulama there were three possible ways of relating to the state. All three are, of course, justified by their proponents through exegesis from the Qur'an and hadith:

1. Political Co-operation.

      The ulama can co-operate with the state and provide it with recognition. They can accept appointment to official positions in the state. This can be justified by the contention that the state is preventing anarchy and only where there is order can the provisions of the Shari'a be fully implemented. It is permissible to co-operate with a state that is enforcing the Shi'i Shari'a and the ruler of which is just. Cooperation with a non-Shi'i or unjust government is only permissible under compulsion on the pain of death or grave loss when the provisions of taqiyya (religious dissimulation, see p. 183) come into play.

      Theoretically, even when they accept a state's appointment (as judge or some other post), this is not the sole source of the Shi'i ulama's authority. Their authority derives also by virtue of the concept of their being the Na'ib al-'Amm (general representative) of the Hidden Imam.

      Many of the leading ulama of the Safavid period took this view, but, in later periods, ulama who took posts identified with the government were looked upon with some disdain by their colleagues.

2. Political Activism.

      The ulama can actively involve themselves in politics, seeking to bring the temporal authorities into line with the Shari'a. Thus if the government complies with them they dominate it (as happened during parts of the Safavid period and also in present-day Iran). Or else they oppose the government. This attitude can be justified since all government is usurping (ja'ir) the authority of the Hidden Imam and the ulama as the Na'ib al-'Amm of the Hidden Imam and as experts in the Shari'a are the best persons to guide the government. Western scholars have tended to make a great deal out of this political option (even to the extent of disregarding the others), and it cannot be denied that there have been a few dramatic occasions, such as the agitation against the Tobacco Regie in 1891-2, the Constitutional movement in 1905-9 and the 1979 Revolution in Iran, when this option has been taken up by the majority of the ulama with dramatic political effect. But this should not obscure the fact that this has not been the attitude of the majority of the ulama for most of the time. For example, Mirza Muhammad Hasan, Mirza-yi Shirazi, the foremost Shi'i mujtahid of the late 19th century, spent most of his life politically aloof. However, for a very short period of time he chose to take a political initiative and opposed the state over the question of the Tobacco Regie.

3. Political Aloofness.

      The ulama can remain totally aloof from all political matters. This has always traditionally been the attitude of the majority of the ulama. Indeed, it has usually been considered that only ulama who have remained aloof from all other activity and concentrated on furthering the Shari'a can rise to the highest ranks (this did not apply, however, during Safavid times nor does it in present-day Iran).

      The writings of Shi'i ulama through the ages have shown elements of all three of these attitudes and thus it cannot be said that any coherent Shi'i theory of political legitimacy or any unified stance by the ulama towards the state has existed. Even individual ulama have changed their attitude at different periods in their lives according to circumstances, as the above example of Mirza-yi Shirazi shows.

      Up to the time of the Safavids, the question of a political theory in Shi'i Islam did not arise, for up to that time the ulama had existed in the milieu of a strongly Sunni state (or, as in the case of the Buyids, a Shi'i state that made no concessions to the ulama).

      The early Safavid monarchs rested their power base on a Shi'i claim that was closer to the ideas of the 'extremists' ghulat) than of Twelver Shi'is. They were venerated as divine figures by their troops. The late Safavids emphasised their claimed descent from the Seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim, as the source of charismatic religious authority. Although they gave the ulama a free hand in teaching Twelver doctrines to the people, they were sufficiently dominant to inhibit the ulama from trespassing into the field of political theory. The ulama, however, did come to regard themselves as guardians of public morals and towards the end of the Safavid period did not hesitate to speak out if they felt that the king was straying from the path of the Shari'a. The Safavid dynasty can thus be seen as a period which saw a certain degree of separation between church and state but with the state exercising a degree of authority over the religious field through its pseudo-religious charismatic claims and its political control.

      The Qajar dynasty claimed no hereditary charisma in the same way as the Safavids did and so it turned to the ulama for justification of its rule. The ulama were prepared to grant this but used the opportunity to consolidate their position and affirm their independence. Sayyid Ja'far considered that the Imam held both the religious and political leadership in the community. With the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam, however, his functions have been divided and devolve upon two groups who are the Na'ibs (representatives or vicegerents of the Hidden Imam: the ulama who are charged with the religious vicegerency and the rulers who have political vicegerency. If these two co-operate then the affairs of the community run smoothly since the ulama cannot apply the Shari'a unless the ruler establishes order, while the ruler needs the ulama without whose guidance he will stray towards injustice and tyranny. "

      Although the ulama had, since the Safavid and Qajar periods, claimed to be the Na'ib al-'Amm of the Hidden Imam, they had refrained from the obvious next step of claiming the political authority and temporal rule implicit in their vicegerency. Indeed, Sayyid Ja'far Kashfi and others had specifically denied the ulama such a role. Initially, Ayatu'llah Khumayni went along with this view. In his earlier writings such as the Kashf al-Asrar he attacked the Shah's government on the grounds of its injustice and tyranny and because of its secularisation programme. But at this stage Khumayni's aim was only to exert pressure on the Shah and government to reform itself. He still allowed the legitimacy of the temporal authorities provided they acted justly, which is defined as acting in accordance with the Shari'a. Khumayni's view, at this time, was that monarchy is a divine privilege entrusted ta the king by the people. Thus it is necessary for every king to obtain his mandate from the people. In summary, Khumayni has taken the Na'ib al-Amm concept to its logical conclusion by asserting the right of the faqih as the deputy of the Imam to superintend all religious, social and political affairs — the Vilayat-i Faqih.

Other Sources of the Ulama's Authority and Social Prestige

      The Hidden Imam is thought to be among the body of the Shi'is incognito. Since he must undoubtedly be accounted as one of the learned, there is always the possibility that one of the ulama may indeed be the Hidden Imam. In addition, numerous stories exist of the Hidden Imam manifesting himself to prominent members of the ulama. This feeling that the ulama, and particularly the great mujtahids, are in close contact with the Hidden Imam undoubtedly contributes greatly to their prestige and authority among the ordinary people. Their standing is further bolstered by the attribution to them of miracles (karamat).

      During the Qajar period it became normal for the prominent ulama in any town to surround themselves with a band of the town's ruffians, known as lutis, to their mutual benefit. The ulama had a ready band who would take to the street and create agitation when it suited the ulama to call them out, and many a governor in nineteenth-century Iran was withdrawn because of such agitation. The lutis, in turn, had a protector with whom they could take refuge if the government moved against them. The tullab (religious students) attached to the religious colleges were used by the ulama in much the same way in the larger towns. This type of behaviour came to the fore once more in the 1979 Revolution in Iran. Since the Revolution, essentially the same group of persons, now called Hizbu'llahis (the Party of God) are providing support for the radical ulama at the street level. Some of these elements have been incorporated into the Revolutionary Guards.

      Also closely involved in the power structure of the religious classes are the Sayyids. These are persons who claim descent from the Prophet through Fatima and the Imams. Their prestige in the community is based solely on this heredity. As a class they lay no claim to religious learning (although as individuals many of them do undertake religious education and become ulama as well) but, according to the religious law, they are entitled to part of the khums religiouS tax (see p. 179) and they are highly regarded by the ordinary people. Thus this group are often asked to bless a newborn child and a marriage into a Sayyid family is regarded as highly advantageous. The Sayyids and the ulama are often closely inter-related by marriage and are mutually supportive socially.

      Two social groups that usually provide the ulama with support are: the Bazaar (the complex net of merchants, bankers and craftsmen who make up the heart of the traditional Islamic city) an element-which has a tradition of being conservative and 'religious';[21] and the Zur-Khanas which are combined gymnasia and wrestling schools (historically these are evolved from the futuwwa, see p. 90, and are linked to the lutis mentioned above).

Education of the Ulama

      Prior to the establishment of a modern school system in Iran, elementary education was provided in the villages and towns by the maktab, a school which was usually run by a minor member of the ulama. These gave their pupils a basic literacy but concentrated on memorising passages of the Qur'an (which being in Arabic was unintelligible to the pupils), teaching religious duties (such as obligatory prayers, etc.) and usually also some Persian poetry (Sa'di, Hafiz, Rumi, etc.). From the maktab students would go on to a madrasa (religious college) which would be situated in the larger towns. In the present day, at about the age of fifteen those aiming to become top-ranking ulama will head for the most important centres of religious learning which are, at present, Qumm, Mashhad and Najaf, and will enrol in the madrasas there.

      The culmination of the student's endeavours is the receipt of an ijaza (permission or authorisation) from a recognised mujtahid. The student usually prepares a treatise on fiqh or usul al-fiqh and presents it to the mujtahid. If the mujtahid considers the student himself and the work worthy of it, he issues an ijaza which in effect states that the recipient is in his opinion, capable of exercising ijtihad and thus can be called a mujtahid. The more eminent the mujtahid, the more prestigious is the ijaza that he signs and any student wanting to achieve recognition will usually try and obtain ijazas from all of the most eminent mujtahids at his centre of learning. It is uncommon to obtain an ijaza before the age of thirty and not uncommon for forty-and fifty-year-olds to be still students.

      The formal preconditions for being considered to be able to give legal opinions (ifta) and thus to be a mujtahid are:

  1. Maturity.
  2. Being of the male sex (this is the subject of some controversy).[22]
  3. Being of legitimate birth.
  4. Faith.
  5. Intelligence.
  6. Justice (integrity).
      The concept of justice is not, however, the usual Western view of that word but rather it implies one whose words and deeds are strictly controlled by the Shari'a, refraining from all its prohibitions and performing all of its obligations.

      There are no fees for studying at the madrasas and indeed the students are given their room and an allowance for their essential needs. This allowance is almost always just enough for subsistence and those students from a poor background who receive no additional funds from home usually lead a very harsh, spartan existence.[23]

The Hierarchy of the Ulama

      The clerical class constitutes a fairly distinctive entity in Iran and to a lesser extent in other Shi'i communities. The terms most usually used for a member of this class in Iran is mulla or akhund. But since these two expressions have acquired a somewhat pejorative connotation, in recent years a third term, ruhani (spiritual) has been promoted especially by the clerical class itself.

      Only a small percentage of those who enter a madrasa succeed in obtaining an ijaza. Most students leave at some stage before this either out of financial or personal considerations or because they do not have the intellect and perseverance to last the course. Most of those that leave the madrasa at an early stage consider themselves members of the ulama, although many will go to other occupations such as merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen. Often a village or town will petition one of the mujtahids to send them a teacher for the maktab or a pishnamaz (a prayer-leader), or a position as a mutawalli (custodian) of a shrine or endowment will become vacant and the mujtahid will appoint one of his students who obviously does not have the capacity to complete the course to this position. Others will leave the madrasa with the intention of becoming a wa'iz (travelling preacher) or rawda-khan (narrators of the Karbala tragedy), although these latter need not have attended a madrasa at all.

      The obtaining of an ijaza, although a considerable achievement and entailing a degree of prestige, does not automatically result in recognition as a mujtahid. For the status of mujtahid can only be achieved by public recognition. In other wards, the possessor of an ijaza, although considered by his teacher to be worthy of being a mujtahid, does not in fact become one until he gathers among the public a following who are prepared to acknowledge him as such and refer to him on legal matters. The patronage of one of the eminent mujtahids obviously assists greatly in achieving recognition as a mujtahid, but prestige among one's fellow students, family connections and the ability to preach and communicate with the people are also important. There are many who having obtained an ijaza fail to achieve recognition as mujtahids and these are sometimes referred to as mujtahid muhtat (mujtahid in abeyance).

      Once recognition as a mujtahid has been achieved, movement upwards towards pre-eminence among one's fellow mujtahids is once again dependent on public acclaim of one's piety and learning and also, to a certain extent, the natural result of the death of more prominent mujtahids.

      Historically, the ulama initially had no hierarchical structure. Members of the ulama would choose to specialise in different fields such as philosophy or theology and would not suffer any loss of prestige thereby, although by far the greatest number studied jurisprudence (fiqh) since this was the field for which there was the greatest need in the towns and villages of the Shi'i world.

      One result of this division was that those ulama who had not concentrated on jurisprudence in their studies and were thus not considered eligible to be mujtahids fell sharply in the hierarchy of deference and henceforth only mujtahids could aspire to the highest ranks of the ulama.

      The practice of following or emulating a mujtahid is called taqlid and thus the mujtahid became the marja' at-taqlid (reference point for emulation).

      Up to the middle of the 19th century there were very few mujtahids (three or four) anywhere at any one time. Probably due to the new emphasis on the position of mujtahids there was, after this, a sudden explosion in the numbers of mujtahids so that several hundred existed by the end of the 19th century.

      At all times it was considered obligatory to seek the most knowledgeable person available to give legal opinions. During the 19th century, improving communications made it increasingly easy for important or controversial questions to be referred to the eminent mujtahids at Najaf both by ordinary Shi'is and local mujtahids. In this way a small number of eminent mujtahids in Najaf became regarded as being the marja' at-taqlid for a particular area. Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Najafi almost succeeded in consolidating the function marja' at-taqlid in himself but there seems general agreement that either Shaykh Murtada Ansari towards the end of his life or Mirza-yi Shirazi were the first to become sole marja' at-taqlid (marja' at-taqlid al-mutlaq) for the entire Shi'i world. After Mirza-yi Shirazi there developed a pattern whereby on the death of each marja' at-taqlid, there would either be an obvious successor or there would be a small group of mujtahids of equal renown. In the latter case, the group would share the leadership until, as one after another died, only one would be left and he would become the sole marja ' at-taqlid. The situation continued until the death of Ayatu'llah Burujirdi in 1961 (for developments after this see p. 248).

      In recent years several lists of maraji' at-taqlid going back to the time of Kulayni at the start of the Greater Occultation have been produced.[26] But this is a practice of dubious historical authenticity since the concept of marja' at-taqlid originated in the 18th century, possibly with Bihbahani.

      In addition there has been a tradition in Islam that at the beginning of each Islamic century there would arise a great figure who would revitalise the religion. This figure is called the Mujaddid (Renewer). Although there is general consensus for who this figure was in some centuries, there is not for others. Table 7 shows a provisional list.

      The local mullas and the great mujtahids are mutually interdependent. The local mullas are the main means of spreading public recognition of a mujtahid's piety and learning since the common people are not considered able to discern such things (piety being a question of how closely one's actions conform to the norms laid down by the Shari'a; this, naturally, can only be assessed by a member of the ulama). Thus the great mujtahids need the local mullas for recognition and the income that that ultimately entails. Local mullas need the great mujtahids since they tend to bask in the reflected glory of the mujtahid that they follow.

      Prefixed designations such as 'Ayatu'llah' are a relatively new phenomenon. In the 19th century a number of the most prominent mujtahids such as Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Shafti and Mirza-yi Shirazi were referred to as 'Hujjatu'l-Islam' (the proof of Islam). Then in the 20th century, the title 'Ayatu'llah' (the sign of God) became customary for designating a marja' at-taqlid.27 In recent years, and particularly after the 1979 Revolution, there was a vast proliferation of individuals calling themselves 'Ayatu'llah', thus effectively degrading the title. At present three levels of prefixed designations appear to be in use: 'Ayatu'llah al 'Uzma' (the greatest sign of God), designates a marja' at-taqlid; 'Ayatu'llah', used for any established mujtahid; and 'Hujjatu'l-Islam' for aspiring mujtahids.[28]

Chapter 9

The Shaykhi School

      Whereas the Akhbari School differed from the Usulis principally in the field of jurisprudence or the furu-' (peripheral elements) of the religion, the Shaykhi School, founded by Shaykh Ahmad ibn Zaynu'd-Din al-Ahsa'i (1166/1753-1241/1826) differed principally in the field of doctrines and the usul (fundamental principles) of the religion. Although Shaykh Ahmad disagreed with Mulla Muhsin-i Fayd on a number of points, the Shaykhi School may be regarded, on the simplest level of analysis, as a further development of the Hikmat-i Ilahi of the School of Isfahan (see pp. 216-19). The doctrines of Shaykhism require a great deal more research but, pending that, the following is a brief outline of the major themes, emphasising those aspects where Shaykhism differs from the orthodox position:

      A. On God: In order to have knowledge of something, there must be some similarity between the knower and the known. Since there is no similarity whatsoever between God and man, man can never know God's Essence. Any knowledge that man has of God is only a creation of his own imagination. At most it relates to an image or reflection of God but can never attain His reality. From God issues forth His Will and it is this which is the cause of creation. This view of God essentially negated the Sufi concept of wahdat al-wujud (existential unity) and the mystical union with God.

      One aspect of Shaykh Ahmad's views about God which brought him into conflict with the mainstream of Twelver Shi'i thought was his view regarding the knowledge of God. Shaykh Ahmad considered that God had two types of knowledge, an essential (dhati) knowledge which is inseparable from His Essence; and a created (muhdath) knowledge which comes into being when God acts within creation. This same division may be applied to all of the attributes of God.

      B. On the Prophets: The prophet stands as an intermediary between man and God. There is no similarity between God and the prophet nor between man and the prophet. The prophet is not merely a man whom God has chosen to become the recipient of his revelation but is unique and possessed of capabilities and attributes beyond the reach of even the most perfect man. In this, Shaykh Ahmad is denying the Sufi idea that man can by purifying himself achieve the station of prophethood.

      C. On the Imams: Shaykh Ahmad considered that the first creation issuing forth from God's will was the light of Muhammad (an-Nu-r al Muhammadiyya). From this light the light of the Imams came into being. From the light of the Imams the light of the believers came into being, and so on. Thus the Imams are the instruments of the creation of the world. They are also the ultimate cause of creation since God has created the world for their sake. They are the intermediaries through which man can obtain some comprehension of God and God's bounties can reach man.

      It was Shaykh Ahmad's conception of the Imams that drew from the orthodox camp the accusation of tafwid (attributing God's attributes to someone other than God).

      Another result of Shaykh Ahmad's extreme veneration of the Imams was that, when visiting the shrines of the Imams, who were buried as is Muslim custom with their heads pointing towards Mecca, Shaykh Ahmad would pay his respects at the foot of the Imam and never approached the head because he considered it disrespectful and because he did not wish, when the time for prayers came, to have to turn his back on the Imam, when he turned towards Mecca. This way of visiting the shrines of the Imams became characteristic of the followers of the Shaykh who became known as Pusht-i Saris (behind-the-headers) while the orthodox Shi'is were Bala-Saris (above-the-headers). In the conflict between the Shaykhis and their orthodox opponents that occurred from time to time, the two sides were often referred to as Shaykhis and Bala-Saris.

      D. On the Nature of the World: Between the physical world and the spiritual world, there exists an intermediary world, the world of Hurqalya (or Huvarqalya — variously stated to be Hebrew, Greek or Syriac in origin) or the world of archetypal images ('Alam al-mithal). This is identified as the barzakh (isthmus or purgatory) of orthodox Islamic eschatology. 3 Everything in the physical world has its counterpart in the world of Hurqalya. Each individual human being has two bodies, one of which exists in the physical world and one in Hurqalya. The occulted but living Twelfth Imam and the cities of Jabulsa and Jabulqa, where he is supposed to live, all exist in the realm of Hurqalya.

      E. Eschatology: It was the consequences of Hurqalya, more than anything else, that led to Shaykh Ahmad's conflict with the orthodox ulama. For the Shaykh's chief endeavour was to harmonise reason and religion and he used the concept of Hurqalya to explain some of the doctrines of Islam that appeared contrary to reason.

      For Shaykh Ahmad, the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam did not mean that a living physical Imam was in hiding somewhere on earth but rather that, although direct physical contact with the Imam was no longer possible, the Imam lived on in the world of archetypal images, the realm of Hurqalya, and, for those who strive to reach him in that world, he is still able to perform the key function of the Imam, that of initiating the seeker into the divine mysteries (walaya).

      With regard to the phenomenon of resurrection, Shaykh Ahmad also regarded this as an event that occurs to man's subtle body in the world of Hurqalya. Similarly, heaven and hell are the results of men's actions which create the situation of either heaven or hell in each individual's personal life in Hurqalya.

      F. The Night Ascent of Muhammad (Mi'raj): One of the key events in the life of the Prophet was the night that, according to orthodox Muslim belief, he was transported bodily to a place near Jerusalem and then ascended to heaven. Shaykh Ahmad asserted that the Mi'raj took place with Muhammad's subtle body and not with his physical. G. The Fourth Support: This key doctrine of the Shaykhis was developed not so much by Shaykh Ahmad himself as by his successors. Orthodox Shi'is believe in five supports or principles of the religion (usul ad-din, see pp. 176-7). Shaykh Ahmad considered that two of these, the unity of God and the justice of God could be put together as one, knowledge of God. Also, the resurrection, as part of the prophetic teaching, could be put under that heading and did not need to exist by itself. This left three supports to which a fourth was added. In the time of Sayyid Kazim and among the early writings of Karim Khan Kirmani, the Fourth Support (ar-Rukn ar-Rabi') appears to mean the continuing presence in the physical world of a Perfect Shi'i (ash-Shi'i al-Kamil, cf. the Sufi concept of the Perfect Man) who is able to act as the intermediary between the Hidden Imam and the world. The Hidden Imam inspires this intermediary who thus comes to represent the will of the Hidden Imam. This Perfect Shi'i stands at the head of a hierarchy of figures, nujaba and nuqaba, who are each able to impart some of the Imam's knowledge and authority. The term ar-Rukn ar-Rabi' (or in its Persianised form Rukn-i Rabi') is sometimes applied to the Perfect Shi'i alone and sometimes to the whole hierarchy. It is reasonably clear that the early Shaykhis regarded Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim as each being successively the Perfect Shi'i, the Fourth Support, the gate to the Hidden Imam. 4 At a later stage in the evolution of Shaykhi doctrine, when the Shaykhis were trying to be less controversial doctrinally, the term ar-Rukn ar-Rabi' came to be applied to the body of the ulama as a whole and indeed came to resemble the Na'ib al-'Amm concept.

      However, underlying the bitter opposition of many mujtahids to the Shaykh's doctrines was undoubtedly a fear that the Shaykh's preference for intuitive knowledge, which he claimed to obtain directly by inspiration from the Imams, would seriously undermine the authority of their position which was based on knowledge derived by the rational processes of ijtihad. Shaykh Ahmad's preference for the intuitive uncovering of knowledge (kashf) led his school to be called Kashfi by some.

      In matters of jurisprudence Shaykh Ahmad appears to have taken an intermediate position between the Usulis and the Akhbaris. He did not deny the validity of ijtihad but considered it desirable to remain within the area demarcated by the Traditions of the Imams.

      These doctrines of Shaykh Ahmad inevitably brought him into conflict with the more fundamentalist ulama. The first matters that became the subject of conflict were the questions of the night ascent of Muhammad and the resurrection which the Shaykh's opponents considered to have occurred or were to occur with the physical body. There was also the question of tafwid (see above) and of the knowledge of God. 5 Later numerous other points were added to the list of differences.

      Shaykh Ah. mad, during his lifetime, had appointed Sayyid Kazim as his trustee and successor. During Sayyid Kazim's time, the conflict with orthodoxy intensified. At his death in 1259/1843, Sayyid Kazim failed to appoint a successor and the Shaykhis, apart from those that went on to become Babis (see next section), split into three main factions: one led by Mirza Hasan Gawhar in Karbala, one led by Hajji Mirza Shafi', Thiqatu'l-Islam and Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani Hujjatu'l-Islam in Tabriz and one led by Hajji Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani in Kirman.

      At Karbala many of the Shaykhis followed Mirza Hasan Gawhar (Mulla Muhammad Hasan Qarachadaghi) although two other figures, Mirza Muhammad Husayn Muhit Kirmani and Sayyid Kazim's son, Ahmad (killed 1878), had considerable influence. Leadership of this group was assumed after Gawhar's death by Mulla Muhammad Baqir Usku'i (d. 1301/1883). After him leadership passed to his son, Mirza Musa, and now rests with his grandson, Mirza 'Ali Ha'iri, who is resident in Kuwait. They are known as Usku'is.

      The Tabriz Shaykhis quickly suppressed all external evidence of heterodoxy. Thus, for.example, in the field of jurisprudence, they unreservedly adopted the Usuli School. This did not, however, save them from the animosity of the populace. During the last half of the 19th century there were frequent anti-Shaykhi riots and, indeed, the splitting of the city into Shaykhi and Bala-San quarters came to replace the Ni'mati-Haydari division of other Iranian cities (see p. 215). Leadership among the Tabriz Shaykhis came to lie in two families. At first it was the Hujjatu'l-Islam family that was predominant. Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani Hujjatu'l-Islam (d. 1269/1852) led the prayers in the Hujjatu'l-Islam Mosque and became one of the prominent religious leaders of Adharbayjan. His three sons, Mulla Muhammad Husayn (d. 1303/1885), Mulla Muhammad Taqi (d. 1312/1894) and Mirza Isma'il (d. 1317/1899) and Mulla Muhammad Husayn's son, Mirza Abu'l-Qasim (d. 1362/1943) each in turn took the title Hujjatu'l-Islam and became the leader of prayers in the Hujjatu'l-Islam Mosque. After the last-named, however, the family died out. The second family was the Thiqatu'l-Islam family. Hajj Mirza Shafi' Thiqatu'l-Islam (d. 1301/1884) was, like Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani, a student of Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim. He was succeeded in turn by his son Shaykh Musa (d. 1319/1901) and grandson Mirza 'Ali, each of whom successively took the title Thiqatu'l-Islam. During the lifetime of Mirza 'Ali, the Thiqatu'l-Islam family overtook the Hujjatu'l-Islam family in importance and became the leader of the majority of the Tabriz Shaykhis. Mirza 'Ali became a national hero when he was hanged by the Russians in 1912 for resisting the occupation of Tabriz. A large number of the writings of Shaykh Ahmad were lithographed in Tabriz during the 19th century. (Tabriz also had a group of Shaykhis who followed Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani and these were centred on the Kazimi Mosque.)

      The most important group of Shaykhis, however, was that led by Hajji Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani (1810-71) who was a member of the ruling Qajar family (his mother was Nasiru'd-Din's great-aunt and he was the maternal uncle of the mother of Muzaffaru'd-Din Shah). After his death leadership of this group of Shaykhis went successively to members of his family who.were each known by the title 'Sarkar Aqa' (His Lordship). For a while there was a dispute over the leadership between Muhammad Karim Khan's two sons, Hajji Muhammad Rahim Khan and Hajji Muhammad Khan. Then in 1878 there was a violent Shaykhi-Bala-Sari conflict in Kirman which lasted for over a year. At the end of this time Muhammad Rahim Khan was expelled by the Governor and the leadership crisis was thus resolved in favour of Hajji Muhammad Khan. Most of the followers of Muhammad Rahim Khan rejoined the main group after a while. A more serious split was caused by Hajji Mirza Muhammad Baqir Hamadani (d. 1901) who objected to the leadership becoming hereditary and considered himself more learned than Ha]il Muhammad Khan. His residence was in Hamadan until 1897 when a Shaykhi-Bala-San riot forced him to move to Na'in. His followers, known as Baqiris, are most numerous in Hamadan, Na'in and Isfahan. Muhammad Khan's followers were known as Natiqis or Nawatiq.

      Hajji Muhammad Khan died in 1906 and was succeeded by his brother Hajji Zaynu'l-'Abidin Khan (d. 1941) who in turn was succeeded by his son Hajji Abu'l-Qasim Khan Ibrahimi (d. 1969) and grandson Hajji 'Abdu'r-Rida Khan Ibrahimi. The latter was killed during the disturbances following the Iranian Revolution on 26 December 1979 in Kirman. After this leadership of the movement went out of the Ibrahim family and the new leader is Sayyid 'Ali Musawi who is resident in Basra in Iraq.

      Under Muhammad Karim Khan and his successors Shaykhism underwent a phenomenon that might be called doctrinal drift. By this is meant that each successive Shaykhi leader expounded the doctrines of the school in such a way as to bring them more and more closely into line with orthodoxy. The culmination of this process occurred in 1950 when Aqa Muhammad Taqi Falsafi (acting on behalf of Ayatu'llah Burujirdi) put twenty-five questions to Hajji Abu'l-Qasim Khan Ibrahimi on matters of doctrine. These were answered (in the Risala-yi Falsafiyya) in so completely orthodox a manner that Falsafi was left wondering why the Shaykhis chose to call themselves by a separate name.

      Shaykhis have remained a small minority in the Shi'i world, numbering perhaps 200,000 in Iran and 300,000 in Iraq and the Gulf. They are to be found in most cities but ate most numerous in Kirman, Tabriz, Khurramshahr, Abadan, Tehran, Abada, Marvdasht, Rafsanjan, Shiraz and Zunuz as well as in Basra in Iraq. At Kirman the Shaykhis have a small religious college, the Madrasa Ibrahimiyya, with some 30 or 40 students, and a publishing house and press. There is also a religious college in Basra.

Chapter 10

The Babi Movement and the Bahá'í Religion

      The approach of the Muslim year 1260 (1844) was accompanied by a general rise in expectancy of the return of the Hidden Imam. This was because that year marked the one thousandth anniversary of the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam and the beginning of the period of Occultation. There were several indications in the Qur'an and the Traditions that the dispensation of Muhammad would be one thousand years long[6] and thus the year 1260 was greatly anticipated throughout the Shi'i world.[7]

      Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-50), who took the title the Bab (the Gate), was, until the death of Sayyid Kazim Rashti in 1843, closely associated with the Shaykhi School. Then, in 1844, he put forward a claim and gained many adherents, initially mostly from among the Shaykhi School. At first the Bab only appeared to be claiming to be the Gate to the Hidden Imam and his followers kept to the Islamic Shari'a. But in 1848 he advanced the claim of being the returned Twelfth Imam himself who had come to abrogate the Islamic dispensation and inaugurate a new prophetic cycle.

      Developing the argument of the Shaykhi School, from the Bab viewpoint, just as the Hidden Imam existed in the world of Hurqalya, the realm of archetypal images, so the return of the Twelfth Imam was not the return of the self-same physical body of the Imam but rather the advent of a man who in the realm of Hurqalya is the archetypal figure of the Imam. Thus it was that the Shaykhi teachings paved the way for the Bab and it is doubtful if the Bab would have attracted so many adherents if it had not been for the Shaykhi doctrines.

      The Bab was put to death by a firing squad in Tabriz in 1850 He had appointed as his successor Mirza Yahya, Subh-i Azal, and had prophesied the advent of another messianic figure whom he called 'Him whom God shall make manifest'. Privately in 1863 and publicly in 1866, Mirza Husayn 'Ali (1817-1802), who took the title Bahá'u'lláh (Glory of God), claimed to be this messianic figure foretold by the Bab. The majority of Babis became Bahá'ís. Bahá'u'lláh considerably expanded the scope of his appeal beyond the confines of Shi'i Iran by claiming to be the fulfilment of the messianic expectations of other religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism.

      Bahá'u'lláh was succeeded by his son 'Abbas Effendi (1844-1921), who took the title 'Abdu'l-Bahá (Servant of the Glory). He was given the position of authorised interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings. He appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (d. 1957), as Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. Since 1963 the religion has been administered by an elected body, the Universal House of Justice. The Bahá'í Faith, during the time of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, spread to Europe and North America. In the last few decades, it has gained large numbers of adherents in India, Africa, South America and Australasia such that it has outstripped its Islamic heritage and Iran is no longer even the largest national Bahá'í community. Thus the Bahá'í Faith is now an independent religion separate from Islam. It has its own holy books, its own teachings and laws and considers its prophets, the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh, to be independent prophets of God equal in station to Muhammad and bearers of a new revelation from God abrogating the Islamic dispensation. It would therefore be inappropriate to consider it any further in a book on Twelver Shi'ism.

Chapter 11

The Popular Religion: Personal Shi'i practice and ethos

      In Chapter 10 Shi'i Islam was viewed from the aspect of the ulama. In this chapter we will try to give an impression of what the religion means to the Shi'i masses and how it affects their lives.

      In Sunni Islam it has tended to be the Sufi Shaykhs and their mysticism that have held sway over a large part of the population. Shi'is, however, look to the ulama for guidance in religious matters. And therefore Islam for the Shi'is is, even more than for Sunnis, a religion of rituals, obligations and prohibitions.

The Personal Religious Outlook

      Life for a devout Shi'i is perceived very much as having an account with God. This account is credited and debited during one's life. At death, for those with a sufficiently large positive balance in their account there is heaven; for those with a large negative balance there is hell; and for those in between there is the in-between world of barzakh (purgatory) where they are punished for their sins sufficiently to make them eventually worthy of heaven.

      In order to avoid debits to one's account, one must live one's life within the bounds of what is permitted (halal) but, in addition, one can credit one's account by living one's life as closely as possible to the ideal pattern laid down in the Sunna (pattern of words and deeds as conveyed in the Traditions) of the Prophet and the Imams. This involves performance of the various ritual observances which occur on a daily basis (e. g. the obligatory prayers), a weekly basis (e. g. the Friday prayer) or a yearly basis (e. g. the fast in Ramadan). All of these must be observed with a rigorous attention to detail, for the slightest error may result in a state of ritual impurity thus negating all benefit from the performance of the ritual.

      In addition to this, one's account can be credited by the performance of specific deeds which are not in themselves obligatory. These include such things as performing a visitation to a shrine or hosting a gathering for the recital of the sufferings of the Imams. Charitable deeds such as donating money for hospitals or helping someone who is in trouble will also credit one's account.

      Any meritorious action which will credit one's account is called a thawab and each action has its own scale of recompense, thus one can have big thawabs and little thawabs.

      On the debit side of one's account go failure to perform rituals when one is able to perform them; committing acts that are forbidden (haram); and failing to live up to one's social obligations.

      Every action performed by an individual may be classified into one of five categories. The result of this concentration on the externals of the religion is that in tight-knit social groups such as the Bazaar, one's piety and religious merit are judged by others not on the basis of one's beliefs (which are indeed seldom discussed) but on the basis of being observed to be performing the required rituals (i.e. orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy is the standard by which one is assessed).

      The ulama are of course necessary as a guide to the complex details of what is and what is not permissible. Although individual mullas may be regarded as charlatans or hypocrites, the ulama as a class are highly regarded both because of their guidance in traversing the snakes-and-ladders world of obligations and prohibitions and also because the local mulla is regarded as an intermediary between the ordinary Shi'i and the great mujtahids who are the maraji' at-taqlid. At the village level the mulla is often the only literate person and serves an important role in communications and in social and business transactions.

      There is a great deal of genuine popular esteem for the maraji' at-taqlid. This is partly because of their perceived piety and sanctity and partly because of their role as the deputies of the Hidden Imam, the latter being the focus of the eschatological and soteriological aspirations of the masses. This image of the marja' is carefully fostered by stories told of miracles attributed to them. These miracles are called by the term karamat (so as not to compare them to the miracles, mu'jizat, which are one of the proofs of the prophets and Imams).

      Whereas in Sunni Islam there is a direct relationship between the believer and God as revealed in the religion of Islam, in Shi'i Islam there is something of a triangular relationship. While for some things, such as the daily obligatory prayers, the individual is in direct relationship to God, in other matters he looks (usually through the mediation of the local mulla) to the marja' at-taqlid who is regarded as being in a more direct relationship with God. Indeed, in the minds of many of the less educated, the ulama and the marja' are intermediaries between them and God and the relationship is not so much triangular as hierarchical (see Chart 6 on p. 243).

      Another group who have a popularly perceived sanctity are the Sayyids (those who claim descent from Muhammad through 'Ali and Fatima). Marriage into such a family is considered a great honour and Sayyids are often asked to bless a marriage or a new-born child.

      The emphasis on the observation of the externals of the religion does not mean, however, that there is no room for individual piety. Apart from the obligatory prayer (salat) which is said in Arabic, one can say personal prayer (du'a) and communions with God (munajat) in one's own language, addressing God in relation to the events of one's daily life.

      It is, however, upon the Fourteen Pure Ones (Muhammad, Fatima and the Twelve Imams) that the religious fervour of the individual is concentrated. Not only can addressing them in prayer and visiting their shrines induce them to act as intercessors with God for the pardoning of sins, but, through the recital of the details of their lives and struggles (especially at gatherings commemorating their births and deaths), they become models for and guides to the daily existence of the individual. In particular it is the Holy Family (consisting of Muhammad as a grandfather figure, 'Ali and Fatima, their sons Hasan and Husayn, and to a lesser extent their daughter, Zaynab) which is looked to as the model family for all Shi'is to follow in their family inter-relationships. Fatima (and to a lesser extent Zaynab) has become the model of ideal womanhood, while 'Ali or Husayn serve that role for men.

      The Holy Family are connected with a large range of religious symbolism. Muhammad is, of course, the recipient of the revelation, the link with God; he is, however, so exalted as to be only approachable through one of the other members of the family; 'Ali represents the intellectual, esoteric side of religion (the way to obtain the true meaning of the revelation) and its legalistic aspect ('Ali had complete knowledge of the religious law and was the perfect judge); Fatima is the Mother-Creator figure, not very different from the image of Mary in Roman Catholicism, she is even referred to as 'virgin' (batul); Husayn represents atonement, his redemptive martyrdom gives to all the possibility of salvation; the Twelfth Imam is the focus of eschatological hopes of triumph over tyranny and injustice and final salvation. While the ulama look to the image of 'Ali, the image of the intellectual, esoteric yet legalistic attitude towards religion, it is undoubtedly Husayn and his representation of redemption through sacrifice and martyrdom that has caught the imagination and devotion of the Shi'i masses.

      The theme of martyrdom and patient suffering is one that is very strong in Shi'ism. This is perhaps not surprising in a sect that has for much of its existence been a persecuted minority. This theme is embodied in the lives of the Imams themselves who are each regarded as having suffered intense persecution, in some cases imprisonment and physical punishment and who are all popularly considered to have been martyred (except of course the Twelfth Imam, but see Chapter 3 regarding the historicity of this claim). The essence of this Shi'i attitude is summed up in the word mazlumiyyat which means the patient endurance of suffering caused by the tyrannical actions of those who have power over you. All the Imams are considered to have displayed this virtue and, at each of their anniversaries, their lives are recounted emphasising in particular the wrongs that they suffered at the hands of the Umayyad and 'Abbasid governments.

      There is thus a strange paradox in Shi'i Islam in that two apparently contradictory attitudes are both equally praised and commended. The Imams are praised for their patient endurance of suffering at the hands of those with political power; they are commended for their use of taqiyya (religious dissimulation) in the face of overwhelming odds. And yet the greatest Shi'i hero, the Imam Husayn, is praised and commended for not submitting to tyranny and rising up (qiyamat) and fighting even in the face of overwhelming odds and the certainty of martyrdom.

      This paradox has indeed given Shi'is religious justification for an extraordinary political versatility. Those who wish to lead the Shi'i masses can, if the opposition seems overwhelmingly superior or it is expedient to do so, enjoin upon the Shi'is the patient endurance (mazlumiyyat) of the Imams. And yet when the opportunity seems right, the Shi'i masses can be whipped up to the frenzy of revolution by appeal to the spirit of uprising (qiyam) of Husayn. In this state, as was seen in Iran in 1979, the Shi'is are prepared to go into the streets unarmed in eager anticipation of martyrdom. Indeed, it is this (rather than, as has been stated by many Western orientalists, any theoretical illegitimacy of temporal power during the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam) that is the source of the revolutionary fervour latent within Shi'i Islam. '

      One further feature of the Shi'i world-view, which is also a feature of many centuries of being a persecuted minority, is the need for a scapegoat. Although it is centuries since Shi'ism was made the official religion of Iran, this world-view is still strong among Iranian Shi'is. Thaiss has described it thus:

      The environment (in the broadest sense) to an Iranian Shi'a is seen as threatening a perception in which the directionality involved is from the environment toward the person, so that he is viewed as an effect, and various external factors as cause. A person in such a cultural situation would not likely hold himself accountable when things go wrong and would generally react by turning anger and hostility outward toward others — perceived Sunni oppressors, an arbitrary and unjust government, imperialists, agents of change and modernization, minority groups such as Jews, Bahá'í etc.2

      This world-view is as much present among the ulama as among the ordinary people and usually it has been the ulama who, as the natural leaders of the community, have directed the people as to the identity of the scapegoat. While Shi'ism was a minority, the Sunni majority were, of course, the scapegoats and for a while under the Safavids they remained in this role. Later, when the threat from the Ottoman Empire receded, internal scapegoats were found, especially among those who challenged the authority of the ulama. At first it was the Akhbaris, then successively the Shaykhis, the Babis and then the Bahá'ís. From time to time, the government or the Jews have also been cast in this role. The motif was very strong in the period immediately before the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, with the Shah being openly identified with Mu'awiya, the enemy of the Imam Husayn. Since the Revolution, the Iraqi government, American imperialism and the international Zionist conspiracy have become the major external scapegoats, while the Bahá'ís have resumed their role as internal scapegoats.

The Pattern of Religious Life

      The pattern of life for the religiously devout is punctuated by the rituals of the religion. These rituals may be classified according to whether they occur on a daily, weekly, yearly or irregular basis. These rituals are described elsewhere in this book (see Chapter g) and are only briefly listed here to demonstrate their pattern of occurrence.

      The yearly cycle is punctuated by a large number of events of religious significance. Several of these, such as the month-long fast during Ramadan, the feast of Qurban (Sacrifice, commemorating Abraham's intended sacrifice of Ishmael) and the death of Muhammad are shared with the Sunnis. In addition, however, the births and deaths of each of the Imams are commemorated by festive gatherings or mourning ceremonies as appropriate. A full list may be found in Table 8.

      The most important of these commemorations is that of the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn. The commemorations of this are detailed later in this chapter. It is traditional to keep an all-night vigil of mourning for the three days that commemorate the interval between the stabbing and death of the Imam 'Ali (19 to 21 Ramadan).

      Of the religious events that occur sporadically in the life of an individual, the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) is of course a high point and is undertaken by all who can afford it. However, all of the important events of life such as marriage, birth and death are commemorated by religious gatherings both in the home and in the mosque. Indeed, for the less devout these may be their only contact with religion.

Religious Gatherings

      It has been customary in Iran for the devout to gather together in informal groups, usually on a neighbourhood basis, for the purpose of religious instruction and the commemoration of the events of the religious calendar. These groups, which are called hay'ats, are not organised by the ulama and the gatherings usually rotate among the houses of the members of the group. A member of the ulama will, however, often be asked to attend either to preach or to assist in the study of the Qur'an.

      The most conservative and traditionally-devout section of Iranian society has always been the Bazaar. Many of the Bazaaris form hay'ats on the basis of their guilds (i.e. on the basis of occupation). Other hay'ats may be formed on the basis of ethnic affiliation (e. g. Turkish-speaking Adharbayjanis) or just on friendship. Women, too, may have their own hay'ats or participate in the neighbourhood ones.

      In the decades preceding the 1979 Revolution in Iran, some religious groupings took on a more political aspect and became foci of anti-government sentiment. In these groups, names such as Mu'awiya and Umayyad became code-names for the Shah and the government respectively and whole orations could be given in such a mutually understood code. Some of these groups such as the Fida'iyan and Mujahidin translated the rhetoric of Husayn's rising against a tyrannical government into action by forming themselves into terrorist groups.

      Apart from the gatherings of the hay'ats and other religious groups, individual Shi'is will frequently convene other religious gatherings, often in fulfilment of a vow taken to hold such a meeting in return for recovery from an illness or similar crisis.

      The commonest of these meetings is the rawda-khani recital of the sufferings and martyrdom of the Imam Husayn (or sometimes the other Imams also). The host for the gathering will send invitations to a number of friends and colleagues at work, will invite the rawda-khan (reciter of the rawda), and provide refreshments, usually in the form of tea and sweet-meats. The rawda-khan is considered a good one if he is able to raise the emotions of his audience to the point of weeping and lamentation. At some meetings, some men will start to beat themselves on the chest as the narration reaches its climax while others call out to Husayn and weep.

      Rawda-khani is held throughout the year but, in particular, in the month of Muharram during which the martyrdom of Husayn is commemorated. On 10 Muharram, the day of 'Ashura, when the martyrdom itself occurred, most of the people attend a rawda, either in a private house, or in a mosque, or in another building called a Husayniyya, which has been specially built or converted for such use. Another aspect of the Muharram commemorations are street processions. These processions often carry a simulated body or a replica sarcophagus (naqi) and are, in effect, ritualised funeral processions for the Imam Husayn. The procession goes through the streets and the bazaar chanting eulogies and threnodies to the martyred Imam while rows of men (dastas) beat themselves rhythmically with sticks, chains and swords until the blood flows from their backs or foreheads. This self-flagellation can be seen in all parts of the Shi'i world (see Figs. 46 9). In India the procession forms around a replica of the tomb of Husayn in Karbala and the ceremony ends with the burial of the replica tomb.

      A third feature of the Muharram commemorations is the ta'ziya. This is a highly stylised theatrical presentation of the Karbala tragedy. It evolved in Iran during the late Safavid and Qajar periods[3] and spread to Iraq and south Lebanon but does not appear to be popular in other Shi'i communities. It had almost died out in Iran in recent years but has been revived since the 1979 Revolution. It has been called the Shi'i equivalent of the Christian Passion Play.

      The following is an account of a ta'ziya as witnessed by J. M. Tancoigne at Tehran. Although this account relates to the 19th century, it remains a remarkably good portrayal of such events even to the present day:

But the most curious and extraordinary of all those we have hitherto seen, is the Tazies, or desolations, a kind of funeral games, instituted in memory of the martyrdom of the Imams, Hassan and Hussein, sons of Ali. It is very difficult to give an exact description of such a spectacle, even after having seen it; I shall, however, attempt to give you an idea of the scene. We were invited by the king to be present at their celebration, and being placed conveniently in the shade of a tent raised on one of the terraces of the palace, it enabled us to enjoy a good sight of the whole at one view.

      . . . The object of the Tazies is to remind the people of these memorable events and to preserve their hatred and resentment against the Sunnis. The festival commences on the first of Mouharrem, and lasts until the 11th of the same month.

      During those days of mourning, all the mosques are hung in black, the public squares and crossways are covered with large awnings, and at regular distances are placed stands, ornamented with vases of flowers, small bells, and arms of every kind. The Mollahs stationed in pulpits sing in a mournful voice sacred hymns and lamentations, and the whole auditory respond to them with tears and deep sighs. Men almost naked run through the city, striking their breasts rapidly; others piercing their arms and legs with knives, fastening padlocks in the flesh under their breasts, or making wide ashes in their heads, invoke their saints with frightful howlings, shouting out Hassan! Hussein!

      It is in the great court of the king's palace that the five last representations take place. They might be, in some respects, compared to those ancient spectacles, in which the miseries of the passion were acted. The vizirs pay the expenses of the first day, and the city of Teheran, which is divided into four districts, pays those of the remaining four.

      On a theatre erected opposite the king's kiosk, is to be seen the family of Hussein, represented by men in women's dresses. They are in great agitation, seem to have a foreboding of the dismal fate which that Iman must experience in the plain of Kerbela, and make the air resound with shrieks and dreadful moans. Horsemen soon arrive, load them with chains and carry them off. The two armies of the Iman Hussein and the caliph Yezid then appear in the square: the battle commences, Hussein soon falls from his horse covered with wounds, and Yezid orders his head to be cut off. At that moment the sobbings and lamentations of all the assembly are redoubled; the spectators strike their breasts, and tears stream from every eye!

      On the following days, the representation of this tragedy is continued, Yezid successively destroys Hassan[*] and the two children of Hussein, who had fallen into his power, and a general procession terminates the fifth day.

      The march was opened by a crowd of men of the lower orders, carrying flags surmounted with a hand of steel, and banners of Cachemire shawls, the richness of which formed a singular contrast with the poverty of their own dresses. Then came led horses magnificently caparisoned, their trappings shining with gold and jewels; litters ornamented with foliage and verdure; figures of dead bodies covered with blood, and pierced with daggers, round which aquatic birds moved. Naked and bleeding men marched behind, some of them had a large scimitar stuck into a false skull half open, fitted on their heads, or arrows which seemed to pierce through their breasts. They were followed by a long train of camels mounted by men dressed in black, as were the female mourners, and an infinity of persons of that sort, who threw ashes and chopped straw on their heads in token of mourning. A more pompous and imposing spectacle suddenly came to variegate these hideous scenes. There appeared two great mosques of gilt wood, carried by more than three hundred men: both were inlaid with mirrors, and surmounted with little minarets: children placed in the galleries sang sacred hymns, the soft harmony of which agreeably recompensed the spectators for the frightful shoutings they had heard just before. Several Mollahs, magnificently dressed prayed in the interior, at the tomb of the two Imams. The representation of the Kaaba, or house of Abraham, at Mecca, appeared immediately after the two mosques, and was not inferior to them in richness of ornament. It was followed by Hussein's war horse, pierced all over with arrows, and led at large by his faithful slave, naked and armed with a battleaxe. A great number of children with wings of painted pasteboard, figured as angels or genii, marched in the rear.

      The procession was closed by two or three hundred of the common people in tatters, who struck their breasts, and drove two round pieces of wood with violence against each other, crying 'Hassan, Hossein! Ali!' lastly, by Mollahs each carrying a large torch of yellow wax in a candlestick. The latter stopped a moment under the windows of the kiosk, where the king was, and the Cheik ul Islam addressed, according to custom, praises to his majesty.

      We did not receive an invitation for the last day of the festival: the kin wishing to spare the legation from witnessing the assassination of a Greek ambassador, who Yezid caused to be put to death, for having interceded with him for the pardon of Hussein's brother. The Persians, from what motive I know not, produce this ambassador in the modern European dress.

      All these ceremonies are also repeated in the houses of the nobility. I give you only an imperfect idea of them, for it would be impossible for me to recollect the numerous peculiarities of the representation: yet I can assure you of the exactness of those I have related.[4]

      There appears to be a good deal of variation in different parts of the Shi'i world for the terms associated with mourning for the Imam Husayn. The terminology used above is that which is prevalent in Iran. The word ta'ziya in India denotes the model of Husayn's tomb carried in the processions (also called darih); in Iran, as noted above, it means the 'Passion Play'; in Lebanon it denotes the rawda gathering; while in southern Iraq and Bahrain it is the name given to the ceremonial processions (these latter are called jalus in India). The rawda in India is called a majlis and in southern Iraq a qiraya. The ta'ziya or 'Passion Play' is sometimes in Iran and usually in Iraq called a shabih; in Lebanon it is called shabih or tamthil al-Husayn. The building used for rawdas is called a Husayniyya in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, an Imambara in India and a Ma'tam in Bahrain (see Table 9).

      Although women also participate in rawda-khanis and may host such events exclusively for women, there is another type of religious meeting particular to women. This is called the sufra (literally tablecloth) and consists of an invitation by the hostess to a number of other women to join her for a meal which is usually preceded or followed by a discourse by a mulla (often female) on a religious theme. Sufras are often held in the name of one of the members of the Holy Family (who then becomes the theme Of the sermon for the mulla) and are often in fulfilment of a vow.

The Role and Position of Women

      The role and position of women is, throughout the Shi'i world, more a matter of cultural than religious determination. Although it is true that in most parts of the Middle East women play a subordinate role in the society, yet one can find examples, especially in tribal and village societies, where women work alongside men unveiled and with much greater social freedom.

      The most conservative and traditional sections of Shi'i society, supported by the majority of the ulama, view the role of women as being essentially to remain within the house as domestic supervisor, to provide their husbands with sexual pleasure, to bring up children and to keep away from men other than close relatives. Women are regarded as not worth any substantial education, too emotional to be trusted with any important decisions and liable, if unveiled, to lead men astray by arousing sexual desires. A woman is considered incapable of becoming a mujtahid and giving legal decisions.[5]

      It is true that a woman has substantial but strictly defined rights under Islamic law: the right to inherit, to possess property independently of her husband, to choose her husband, to work and to initiate divorce. Few women, however, are in practice able to exercise these rights effectively in a male-dominated religion. There is no mechanism whereby women can act in society independently of men. Thus only an independently wealthy woman, who can buy the services of a male agent, or a woman who is fortunate enough to obtain the full backing of the male members of her family has any hope of bringing a legal action against another person.

      Modern Shi'i writers have attacked the image of the Western, 'liberated' woman which has penetrated Shi'i society. They regard women in the West as being manipulated by society to become sex objects, consumers of cosmetics and other products of the Western economy. This degradation of women has led, they maintain, to promiscuity, adultery, divorce and the break-down of the family unit in the West. Thus they vigorously reject all movement towards importing any Western ideas of female emancipation. Any movement that had been made in that direction in Iran in the last few decades has been more than reversed since the 1979 Revolution.

Chapter 12

Contemporary Iran and the Revolution

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 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 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.

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.

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.

      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 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 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 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 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[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 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.[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 ' 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.[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.

      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.

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