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The Shiʿite Hierocracy and the State in Pre-modern Iran: 1785–1890


With the progressive development of secularism in the West, of which Spain's formally becoming a secular state in 1978 may be taken as a symbolic culmination, the Church-State problem has long receded from the foreground of the Occidental memory. Yet, in other parts of the world, where God is not dead, the analogue problem of the relationship between the hierocracy and the state merits attention. As the Islamic revolution of February 1979 eloquently demonstrates, the problem is of great importance and the sociologists' or social historians' neglect of it could only be to the detriment of their understanding.

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(1) See the author's article, The Clerical Estate and the Emergence of a Shi'ite Hierocracy in Iran Safavid: a study in historical sociology, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient (forthcoming, 1981).

(2) For an account of popular Sufism and its suppression, see Arjomand S.A., Reli- gious Extremism (Ghuluww), Sufism and Sunnism in Iran Safavid: 1501–1722, Journal of Asian History, XV (1981).

(3) Sayyid ‘Abd al-Husayn Khātōn-ābādī, Waqāyi’ al-Sanīn wa'l-A'wām, ed. by Bihbūdi M.B. (Tehran 1973/1352), pp. 559566.

(4) See GIbb H.A.R. and Bowen H., Islamic Society and the West (London 1957), ch.

(5) See Arjomand S.A., Religion, Poli- tical Action and Legitimate Domination in Shi'te Iran: fourteenth to eighteenth centuries A.D., European Journal of Socio-logy, XX (1979), 59109.

(6) There can be little doubt that Nāadir's religious policy was determined not by his LAMBreligious convictions, but by his goal of consolidating his rule over an Eastern pan- Islamic empire. Considerable evidence has recently been brought to light to suggest Nadir's Shi'ite background (see R. Ni Sha'bī-, Siyāasat-ī Madhhabi-yi Nadir, Vahīd, VIII (1970), 1134–7. However, it is equally dear that he had no personal religious convictions (see Lockhart L., Nadir Shah (London 1938), p. 278).

(7) Malcolm J., History of Pertia (London 1829), II, pp. 5051; Lambton A.K.S., Landlord and Peasant in Pertia (London 1953), pp. 131–2.

(8) Isfahāani M.M., Nisf-i Jahān Ta'rīf al-Isfāhān, edited by Sotoudeh M. (Tehran 1961/1340), pp. 256–7.

(9) Iqbāl A., Vathīqa-yi Ittihād-i Islām-i Nadir, Yādigār, IV (1947), 43–6.

(10) Iqbal A., ‘Aqibat-i Nādir Shāh, Yadigar, II (1945), 41–3.

(11) Lockhart L., op. cit. pp. 107–8.

(12) The reign of the most important of the intervening rulers, Karim Khāan Zand (1747–79), is of little significance from the viewpoint of religious history. He is said by one of the more pious chroniclers of his reign never to have performed his prayers during the whole of his life; and regarded the ulema and the religious students as parasites. Karim Khāan's successors, like those of Nāadir Shတh ruling contempora- neously with them in northwestern Iran, were no more favorably disposed towards the ulemas (See Perry J.A., Kharim Khan Zand (Chicago 1979), pp. 220222).

(13) Nafīsī S., Tārikh-i Ijtim āī va Sīyāsī-yī Irān (1956/1335) I, p. 51.

(14) Algar H., Religion and State in Iran, 1785–1906 (Berkeley 1969), pp. 33 sq.

(15) Ibid. ch. m.

(16) Malcolm , op. cit. II, p. 299.

(17) For an account of Fatlj‘All’s repression of Sufiam see Nafīsī S., op. cit. II, pp. 4048.

(18) Browne E.G., A Literary History of Persia (Cambridge 1924) IV, pp. 391401.

(19) Prince Muhammad ‘Alī Mīrzā, one of Fatlh ‘ All’s sons and the governor of Kirmanshah, insistently purchased one gate of the Paradise from Shaykh Ahmad Ahsāi and another from Sayyid Ridā, son of the eminent Sayyid Mahdī Bahr al-Ulūm; and ordered that both deeds of sale be wrapped up with him in his shroud (ibid. IV, p. 370).

(20) Gibb and Bowen , op. cit. chs. EC xII.

(21) Malcolm , op. cit. II, p. 316. We only find three qadis among the religious dignitaries who signed Nāadir's ‘document on Islamic unity’ in the Najaf conference; and reference to the qadis is conspicuous its absence at the documents of the Zand period (IQBāL , loc. cit. 1947).

(22) The exceptions to this rule were the claimants to Mahdihood, the most serious of whom, Sayyid ‘Alī Muhammad, the Bāab, was executed in 1850 after the suppression of a number of chiliastic uprisings by his followers.

(23) His letters to the Ottoman Caliph, Supublished in Turkey under the title of Suret Namei Humayun (n.d.), indicate that Nadir tried to revive the pre-Safavid tribal principles of legitimacy according to which kingship was ‘the hereditary prerogative of the august Turkamāan tribe’. However after Nāadir's death, Safavid descent, with a marked emphasis on its hierocratic character, remained the most viable grounds of legitimacy for rulership. This was especially so in the case of a mujtahid of Safavid descent who ruled briefly as Supublished layman II in 1849–50 (see Perry J.R., op. cit. pp. 18). The view that legitimate rulership belongs to the religious doctors irrespective of Safavid descent also appears to have gained currency.

(24) The Shi'ite hierocracy appears to have kept its links with the Safavid des- cendant long after the brief reign of the learned Suleyman II mentioned in the preceding note. We still hear of a Safavid pretender with clerical support during the reign of Muhammad Shāh (1834–48) and in the period immediately following the latter's death. The Safavid legitimists circulated the rumor that the Qāajāars had been ordered to kill ‘Abbāas III the Safavid by Nāadir Shāah's son with the dagger of Shimr (the killer of the martyred third Imam, Husayn) which dagger was still in their possession (see Sa'ādat-Nūrī H., Zill al-Sulfān (Tehran 1968/1347), I, p. 61; cf. Algār , op. cit. pp. 100, 121, 126 and the erroneous editorial note in Afshar I. (ed.), Rūznāme-yi Khāṭirāt-i I'timād al-Salṭana (Tehran 19711972/1350), p. 56).

(25) Weber Max, Economy and Society (New York 1968), p. 1147.

(26) For Mīrzā Abu'l-Qāsim, as for all previous political theorists, the fundamental basis of legitimate rulership was justice; and he too did consider the king the Shadow of God on Earth. But he stressed the necessity of the correct interpretation of the term ‘Shadow of God on Earth’; and in reliexplicating its ‘three meanings’, he took great care not to repeat any of the Safavids’ claims. In fact, his interpretation emphati- cally divests the ruler of divine power and divine attributes, and, for the most impor-tant part, links the term with justice and equity as ‘the shadow of divine justice’. Mirza Abu'l-Qāsim states that God has made the king His lieutenant(jānishīn) on earth[N.B., not the lieutenant of the Hidden Imām as the Safavids claimed to be], but immediately proceeds to emphasize the responsibilities implied by such an appoint-ment. In sharp, and one is tempted to say deliberate, contrast to the Safavids’ claim to Infallibility, he writes that the actions committed by the king were not necessitated by divine decree. The king's rule was a trial; he was not absolved from performing his ethical duties by virtue of kingship, and would be punished by God for all evil doing. Mīrzā Abu'l-Qāasim also stresses the interdependence of kingship and religion, noting the differentiation of political and hierocratic functions: ‘The end of the matter, he states, was that God most High had established kings for the preservation of the world of men and their protection from the evil of the wicked. Both the ‘ulanuā’ and the people had need of them. Similarly, God had established the ‘ulamā’ to protect the religion of the people […] Kings and other people needed the ‘ulamā’ to find the way of truth’ (Lambton A.K.S., Some New Trends in Islamic Political Thought in Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century Persia, Studia Islamica, XI (1974), 1718).

(27) Algar H., op. tit. p. 79.

(28) The most eminent mujtahid of the time and the doyen of the hierocracy, Shaykh Ja'far, the Kāshif al-Ghiṭá (d. 1812–13/1127–8) responded by a long declaration (in Arabic) making the waging of jihād against the Russians incumbent, and authorizing Fath ‘Alī to conduct the war on behalf of the Imam of the Age. He explained that his power to authorize the King rested on the mujtahids’ collective office of nīyabāt-i ‘āmma or general Vicegerency during the Occultation of the Imām. Shaykh Ja'far did explain that the defense of Islam through jihād, a duty of the Imām according to the Sacred Law, falls upon the mujtahids by virtue of their office of nīyābat-i ‘āmma during the Occultation. He also explained that it is this duty, and his recognition as a nā'ib-i 'āmm which empowers him to authorize the ruler. Nevertheless, Shaykh Ja'far's use of the phrase: ‘I give permission’ (fa-qad adhintu), though logically unobjectionable, could be viewed as arrogant. Lambton ia therefore correct in supposing that Shaykh Ja‘far’s declaration, like those of some of the other mujtahids ‘carried with it the important corollary that they could give by this authorization validity, or at least temporary validity, to the rule of a Shah whom they appointed to engage in jihād’ (Lambton A.K.S., A Nineteenth Century View of Jihād, Studio Islamica, XXXII (1970), p. 189). However, it should also be noted that the ministers of the Qājār State who initiated and pursued the jihād policy, Qa'im Maqām the Elder, and his son Mirza Abu'l-Qāsim, Qā'im Maqām the Younger, were quite mindful of this hierocratic pretension and took prompt steps to rectify it. Qā'im Maqām the Elder's name appears as the author of a slim volume, in Persian, summarizing the views of the Shi'ite hierocracy on jihād. After being carefully read and approved by Fath ‘AlīShāh (Dunbulī A., Ma'āthir-i Sulṭānīyya (Tabriz 18251826/1241), p. 145 bis) it was printed in Tabriz in 1818 as Kitāb al-Jihādīyya and can be safely assumed to have been fairly widely read as one of the earliest printed books. Qā'im Maqām of course states that the late Shaykh Ja'far authorized Fath 'Alī Shāh on behalf of the Imām to engage in jihād. However, in a later passage he takes care, in referring to a Risāla Ghāyat al-Murād by the Shaykh, to quote him as saying: ‘If I be a man of ijtihād [authoritative derivation of legal norms] and worthy of the Vicegerency of the Imām, peace be upon Him, I give permission to the ruler, etc.’ (Qā'im-Maqām īsā, Kitāab al-Jihādīyya (Tabriz 1818), p. 53.

(29) Qā'im-Maqam A., Munsha'āt-i Qā'im-Maqām-i Farāhānī, (Āpādāna va Arastū Tehran, n. d.), pp. 199204. Note the phrase: ‘The Shahanshah of the world and of the religion’ implies an overlap of religious and political authority in favor of the king. The fact underlying this overlap was that no conceptual distinction could made between Islam as religion or culture and the Islamic community as society or independent social order. For implications of this lack of differentiation, see out conclusion,

(30) Kashfī Sayyid Ja'far, Tuhfat al- Mulūk (Tehran 1857), p. 123 a.

(31) Ibid. p. 123 b.

(32) Ibid. p. 122 a.

(33) In this case, the nīyābat is said to be 'āmma because the hadīth is issued bar vajh-i ghaybat (ibid. 126 b).

(34) Because the instructions are issued to him, bar vajh-i khitāb (ibid.).

(35) Ibid. p. 126 b.

(36) Ibid. pp. 125b–126a.

(37) Hollister J.N., The Shi'a of India (London 1953), p. 130.

(38) Seen. 29 above, and pp. 72–76below.

(39) Afshar , I'timād al-Salfana, op. cit. p. 596.

(40) Teymūrī I., ‘Aṣr-i Bīkhabarī yā Tārīkh-i Imtīyāzat dar īrān (Tehran 19531954/1332), p.124.

(42) Ibid. IX, p. 379.

(43) Lambton A.K.S., op. cit. (1953), p. 136.

(44) al-Salṭana M. H. I'timād, al-Ma'āthir (Tehran 1888), p. 137.

(45) Majlisī M.B., 'Ayn al-Ḥayāt (Tehran 1954). pp. 499501.

(46) For examples from the very end of the nineteenth century, we may take our example from two mujtahids who led the movement against the tobacco concession in 1891–2 — Mīrzā Ḥasan Āshtīyānī the mujtahid of Tehran and Mīrzā Javād, the mahid of Tabriz— and from Sayyid 'Abdullāh Bihbāhanī, one of the two most prominent leaders of the Constitutional Revolution (see Safā'ī I. (ed.), Asnād-i Nō-yāfte (Tehran 1971/1349), pp. 3946. 142–3, 209).

(47) Jihādīyya, p. 46.

(48) Lambton , op. cit. pp. 139140.

(49) Jihādīyya, pp. 49–50.

(50) The lengthiest discussions of ijtihād (authoritative justice competence) and its correlative taqlīd (following) occur in the early works of the period of anti-Akhbārī assertiveness such as MIrza Abu'l-Qāsim Qumī's Qawānīn al-Uṣṣl (Tehran n.d.), and Sayyid Muhammad ibn 'Alī Ṭabāṭabā'ā (d. 1826–7/1242) mafātīḥ al-Uṣūl (Tehran objecn. n.d.). There, the brunt of the arguments traditio are for the ‘permissibility’ (jawdz) of taqlīd and correspondingly for the ‘non-incumbency of ijtihdd upon each and every individual’ (‘adatn wujūb al-ijtihād 'aynan); following (a mujtahid) inthe furnwniū’ (derivative matters of Sacred Law) is permissible. It is not incumbent upon each and every individual to acquire the neces- Barrasisary knowledge to embark upon the deriva-tion of legal norms himself, as such an attempt would prevent him from gaining his livelihood. He may therefore follow the rulings of a specialist who is competent to exercise ijtihād (see Qumī Abu'l-Qāsim, op. cit. pp. 35S sq.; and Sayyid Muḥammad Ṭabāṭabā'ī, op. cit. II). However, there is no explicitassertion of the ‘incumbency’ of obedience to the mujtahids. What emerges clearly is that the aim of these writings ist to legitimate professional specialization in Sacred Law by overcoming the earlier objections, notably those of the Akhādrī traditioare nalists. Once this task was accomplished, the discussion of the topic ceased to receive much attention. As Gorji has remarked, the topic does not really belong to the jurisprudential methodology (1973–4, p. 10), and was in fact omitted from Anṣārī's Farā'id al Uṣūl (see Gorji A., Nigāhi bi Taḥawul-i 'Ilm-i Uṣṣl, Maqālāt va Barrasisaryhā, 13–16 (Tehran 19731974/1352), p. 10).

(51) Scarcia G., Intorno alle controversie tra Uṣṣlī e Akhbārī presso gli Imāmiti Rivista degli Studi Orientali, XXXIII (1958), p. 237.

(52) Malcolm , op. cit. II, pp. 315–6; and Sepsis A., Quelques mots sur l'état religieux actuel de la Perse, Revue de I'Orient [Paris] (1844), p. 100.

(53) Mueller Gert H., The notion of rationality in the work of Max Weber, European Journal of Sociology, XX (1979), 149171.

(54) Weber Max, Economy and Society, op. cit. pp. 810, 813.

(55) Ibid. pp. 822–3.

(56) A. GORJI, loc. cit.

(57) Arjomand S.A., Religion, Political Action … op. cit. pp. 7274, 107.

(58) Gorji A., Taḥqiq dar Qīyās-i Istinbāṫ, Maqālāt va Barrasī-hā, XXI-XXII (1975/1354). p. 19

(59) Iqbāl A., Hujjat al-Islām Hāj Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir Shaftī, Yadigar, V, n° 10, (1949).

(60) Tunikābunī M., Qi'Ulamā’ (1878), p. 145.

(61) Coulson N.J., Conflict and Tension in Islamic Jurisprudence (Chicago 1969), pp. 5860.

(62) Burūjirdī M. 'Abduh, Mabāni-yi Huqīq-i Islāmī (Tehran 1962/1341), pp. 223–25.

(63) AnṣĀrī M., Zindigānī va Shakh-ṣīyyat-i Shaykh Murtaḍā Anṣārī, Ahwaz (19601961/1380), pp. 3940.

(64) Anṣārī Shaykh Murtadḍā, Farā' id al-Uṣūl (Tehran n. d.), p. 2.

(65) Löschner H., Die dogmatischen gnmdlagen del Schi'itschen Rechts (Köln, Carl Heymann Verlag, 1971) p. 195.

(66) Fātimī S. A., Tajrīd al-Uṣūl (Mashhad 1974), p. 169.

(67) Mamaqāanī A., Dīn va Shu'ūn (Tehran 19561957/1335 [Istanbul 1918]), p. 48. See also Anṣāri's al-Makāsib, 1881–2/1299, pp. 71–72.

(68) Weber M., op. cit. ch. xiv, esp. p. 1173.

(69) Ibid. p. 54.

(70) Ḥabīb-ābiāi M. A. Mu'allim, Ma-kārim al-Āthār (Isfahan n. d.), V, p. 1616. The late Safavid source, Qiṣaṣ al-Khāqāni (B.L. Or. Add. MS 7656), uses the term Ḥujjat al-Islām in a completely different sense.

(71) Iqbal , op. cit. (1949).

(72) Tunikābunī , op. cit. p. 143.

(73) Ibid. pp. 144–5.

(74) Iqbal , op. cit. (1949), p. 36.

(75) Sipihr M.T., Nātikh al-Tawārīkh (Tehran 19651966/1344), I, esp. pp. 159–60, 168, 222, 311, 329, 345–6.

(76) Lambton A.S.K., The Persian 'Ula-ma and Constitutional Reform, Le Shi'isme imāmite (Paris 1970), p. 254.

(77) Khurmūjī M.J., Haqāyiq al-Akh-bār-i Nāṣirī, Jam H. Khadiv, ed. (Tehran 1965/1344), pp. 1461471 158, 191; Hid–701.

(78) Lambton , op. cit. (1970), pp. 259260.

(79) Ibid. p. 261; Khurmūjī, op. cit. p. 137; Afshāar, I'timād al-Salūana, op. cit. p. 403.

(80) Chardin J., Les voyages du che-valier Chardin en Perse, Langlés , ed. (Paris 1811), IV, pp. 194195.

(81) Malcolm , op. cit. II, p. 315.

(82) I'timād al-Salṫana, op. cit. pp. 135–186.

(83) Mudakris M. A., Ray ḥānāt al-Adah (Tabriz 1967), I, p. 41.

(84) Habīb-ābādi Mu'allim, op. cit. II, p. 555.

(85) Sepsis , op. cit. p. 100.

(86) Algar , op. cit. p. 135.

(87) Two related aspects of the develop-ment of the doctrine of ijtihād in this period tended to depress the status honor of non-mujtahids, making for their ousting from the upper sector of the deference hierarchy. One was a trend towards denying the validity of the endeavor of the ‘specialized mujtahid1 (mujtahid-mutajazzī), and restricting the validity of ijtihād to the ‘absolute mujtahid’ (mujtahid-mutlaq) ('Abduh , op. cit. pp. 172–4). This had the effect of lowering the status of those who had mastered only one or two branches of the religious sciences. A second factor was the restriction of possibility of ‘amal bi-’l ihtīyāṣ (acting with caution) for those about to reach the level of ijtihād. Thus the author ofMafātih would, stressing the ethical desirability of avoiding mistakes in the fulfillment of religious duties, devote a section to arguing for the ‘necessity of following a mujtahid for he who has not [yet] reached the rank of ijtihad’. This again had the effect of dividing the learned section of the hierocracy into the mujtahids and non-mujtahids who were increasingly pressed to assume the rank of muqallid (followers). On the other hand, ‘the impermissibility of taqlid for one mujtahid from another’ set real limits to formal stratification in terms of ranks at thehighest level (Ṫāabaṭabā'ī, op. cit. II, section on taqlīd).

(88) Afshār I., I'timād al-Salfana, op. cit. p. 63.

(89) Ibid. p. 551.

(90) Ibid. pp. 478, 538–539.

(91) Ibid. pp. 694–698.

(92) Adamīyyat F. and Nātiq H., Afkār-i Ijtimā'i va Sīyāīs va Iqtiṭī dar āthār-i Muntashir-nashude-yi Dawrān-i Qājār (Tehran 1977), pp. 1119.

(93) Iqbāal , loc. cit. (1949).

(94) Afshār I., I'timādal-Salṭana, op. cit. p. 137.

(95) Hidāyat , op. cit. IX, pp. 708709.

(96) Algah , op. cit. p. 116.

(97) Teymūri , op. cit. pp. 4347, 124–126.

(98) Ahjomand , op. cit. (1979), pp. 5961.

(99) See Gobineau's letter of 20 September 1857 to Tocqueville, Tocqueville A. de, The European Revolution and Correspondence with Gobineau, edited and translated by Lukacs J. (New York 1959), pp. 314317.

(100) Here, the contrast with Western Christianity is illuminating. It was the establishment of the separation of hierocratic and political dominations on the basis of the ‘freedom’ of the religious sphere by Gregory VII (see Tellenbach G., Church, State and Christian Society at the Time of the Investiture Contest (London 1959 [Leipzig 1936]), which paved the way for the theocratic monism of the later Middle Ages (see Ullmann W., Medieval Papalism (London 1949). Furthermore, it was the former and not the latter which constituted a truly revolutionary change in world history. This is so because the tendency towards theocratic monism is an inherent potential in all religion, but a potential whose actualization appears to be conditional upon (a) the separation of the hierocracy and the state, and (b) upon the and again the most consistent ethicohierocratic trends in Christianity have tried to impose this view’ (Economy and Society, p. 1163).

(101) Narāqi Mullā Ahmad, 'Awāy id al-Ayyām [?] (Tehran 1903/1321), pp. 185205. The 'Awāyid is the only legal work referred to by Khumayni in support of his theory of the sovereignty of the jurist. However, the primary objective of Narāqī's discussion of vicegerency is to strengthen the juristic authority of the mujtahids. The bulk of the discussion is devoted to the ‘delimitation’ of the scope of the authority of the jurists as the vicegerents of the Imām, and their collective authority is delimited to the exclusion of temporal rule. For Khumaym's reference to Naraqi as his forerunner, see Khumaynī R., Ḥukūmat-i Islāml (Najaf 1971), pp. 98, 142.

(102) Khumaynī R., Kashf-iAsrār (1944), pp. 189, 226–33.

(103) Parsons Talcott, Christianity and Modern Industrial Society, in Tiryakian Edward A. (ed.), Sociological Theory, Values and Sociocultural Change (New York 1963), p. 46.

(104) Afshār , I'timād al-Salṭana, op. cit. pp. 765766, 783, 785.

(105) Weber , op. cit. p. 1177.

(106) Khumaynī R., op. cit. (1971); Tehrani A., Madina-yi Fādila dar Islam (Tehran 19751976/1354).

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