The Ayatollah and his impact on Iran-e-Sagheer—Part II

On his 30th death anniversary, Ayatollah Khomeini’s Kashmir connection is back in discourse. In this second piece of the six-part series, the author revisits the pre-Iranian revolution period and touches upon the historic details which would eventually shape up the events in the valley.

Tracing the history of Iran’s revolutionary influence in Kashmir would, for one, mean diving deep into the Valley’s cultural practices and reversion to Islam. Contrary to initial assumptions, Iran’s intimate roots with the Valley existed much before Ayatollah Khomeini’s perceived ancestry in the region.

“In actuality, when looking back at history, Kashmir’s view of Islam was and remains deeply influenced by Iran,” says Rashid Maqbool, a noted editor-academician. “So much so, that many of our prayers and the inscriptions on the walls of the mosques are in the Persian language. Many of the saints who are revered by both Sunnis and Shias here like Shah Hamadan, Syed Hussain Kirmani and Mir Shamsuddin Araqi have their roots in Iran.”

With regards to Shi’ism, popular history points its growth to the arrival of Mir Shamsuddin Araqi, hailing from Araq (a modern day town in Iran) who visited Kashmir in 1486 and facilitated in the establishment of the first Shiite-centric dynasty in northern India, known as the Chak dynasty.

However, Parvez Alam, from Banaras Hindu University, in his paper, “The Spread of Shi’ism in Kashmir during Chak Dynasty (1554-1586 A.D.)” accredits its evolution to prominent saint Sayyid Sharfuddin Bulbul Shah, a contemporary of Suhdev in the first half of the 14th century.

Sharfuddin converted a number of Hindus, including one of the most eminent personalities, Rinchan Shah, the first Muslim ruler in Kashmir who ruled in the mid-1300s. His origins were largely contested by Sunnis and Shias who separately claimed Sharfuddin’s religious origins.

In the late 14th century, during the reign of Hindal Qutbuddin, Sayyid Ali Hamadani, and his son Mir Muhammad Hamdani from the province of Hamadan in Iran visited the Valley with an estimated seven hundred scholars, artisans and craftsmen.

Their objective was to educate the people about the precise rules and practices of the Islamic law (Shar’ia) after having received an assessment from their cousins on the poor state of Islam present in that time.

Iraj Bashiri from University of Minnesota in his paper titled, “Islam in Kashmir” notes the significance of Shah Hamadan’s actions, stating that what began as a personal endeavor was a practice that later received popular support from major Shaykhs.

“Islam had entered Kashmir a few decades before Hamadani’s arrival, but Hamadani’s involvement after he arrived made a definite impact on the course it took. Rather than meeting with the rulers, as was the custom, Mir Sayyid Ali corresponded with them regularly…Circumstances indicate that his efforts impacted the court as well as the social mores of Kashmiri society. Before long, an Islamic atmosphere that overwhelmed the practice of Hinduism, Buddhism, and paganism of the past prevailed…”

Shah Hamadan introduced Sufism into the society through infrastructure (such as building khaniqahs), lectures (teaching tasawwuf) and rituals (sama’ and raqs’ dance sessions). His dual approach towards the discourse on Islam, i.e, explaining the law in practical and vernacular terms, appealed massively to the level and vibe of the public, thus becoming the cause for his regional popularity that is profusely evident, even today.

Additionally, the Persian preacher’s insistence on promoting his cap-making trade using the best product possible and emphasizing accuracy in performing duties lead to a boon in shawl trade in the Valley, thus earning him names like Qadi al-Quddat (The Chief Judge), Amir-i-Kabir (The Great Leader), Shah-i-Hamadan (king of Hamadan), and ‘Ali-i-Sani (The Second ‘Ali).

With regards to the stimulation of growth of Shi’ism in Kashmir, Parvez Alam, in his paper considers Syed Mohammad Al Moussawwi Al Safavi or Mir Shamsuddin Araqi’s advent into Kashmir to have played a chief cataclysmic role.

Considered to be a saint of the Nurbakh shia order, which had inclinations towards the Shi’ite faction, Mir Shamsuddin first traveled to Kashmir as an ambassador of Sultan Wali Hussain Khorasan of Iran.

In his second visit in the 16th century, he arrived with the command and intention to spread the religion of Islam. By converting a well-known personality, Musa Raina to Shi’ism, Araqi was dispensed with immense support and facilities for his missionary activities.

He was supplied land in Zadibal for building a Khanqah and spreading his teaching, thus connecting to a large number of non-Muslims in the area and successfully bringing them within the folds of Islam. His third visit in 1505 gave him significant political popularity following Raina’s ascension to Prime Ministership.

ALSO READ: The Ayatollah and his impact on Iran-e-Sagheer—Part I

Over the course of time, his influence led to the supporters of Shams Chak (which included Kaji Chak, Sarang Chak and Mir Chak) converting without much resistance. Although a good amount of exposure and association with the sect of Ismaili group of Shi’ism was effectively prominent, Araqi’s teachings and efforts led them to become inclined towards Twelver Shi’ism.

Accordingly, there exists a unanimous consensus on the practice of political reclusion and religious dissimulation (Taqqiya) that Shias adopted following the fall of the Chak Dynasty and the abrupt despotic rule of Afghan ruler Ahmed Shah Abdali.

On the suppression and persecution of Shias over a period of fifty years, editor of local daily Kashmir Observer, Sajjad Haider writes:

“Such was the reign of terror during this period that the community widely went into the practice of Taqqiya in order to preserve their lives and the honour of their womenfolk. Village after village disappeared, with community members either migrating to safety further north or dissolving in the majority faith. The community has yet to recover fully from the shocks of these Taarajs (plunder, loot, massacres), the last one suffered more than a century ago, and the fear of hidden lurking dangers continues to haunt it to date.”

The political persecution marked throughout the decades led to a traditional practice of religious personalities steering clear from the realm of politics, Rashid Maqbool observes. “They didn’t know how to handle power, so they stayed away from it. After Araqi, the next generation of Shias renounced their involvement from such affairs.”

The renunciation, equaling to that of an era, would soon be reawakened by the Sunni brotherhood of the Valley following the sprouting existence of the Muslim Brotherhood, or popularly known as the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimun, founded in 1928 in Egypt, whose ideals were said to have greatly mirrored that of the leader of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Essentially, Shi’ite political analyst, Mehdi Khalaji, in his article, “The Dilemmas of Pan-Islamic Unity” has traced the origins of Muslim Brotherhood to Persian activist-intellectual Said Jamal Assadabadi, widely known as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. This surprising connection further explains and intensifies the enduring link between Iran and Kashmir.

Jamal al-Din was considered to be ‘a key architect of the first wave of religious revivalism that swept across the Sunni world during the latter part of the 19th Century’, widely influencing a new generation of Egyptian scholars to be advocates of pan-Islamist ideals, of which included famous names like Mohammad Abduh, Rashid Rida and Hassan al-Banna.

Jamal al-Din Afghani.

Khalaji notes: “In yet another twist in Muslim history, the Muslim Brotherhood would in turn requite Afghani’s gift to Sunni revivalism by directly stimulating the emergence of a unique form of Shiite Islamism in Iran in the 1950s. Indeed, the Islamic paradigm of pre-revolutionary Iran was profoundly shaped by the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as by kindred Sunni movements such as the Indo-Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami and its founder Sayyed Abul Aala Maududi. In this way, Sunni revivalist ideology helped pave the way for the 1979 Iranian revolution that culminated in Shiite Islamism’s greatest achievement: the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Pre-revolutionary Iran in 1925 operated under the heavy-handed jurisdiction of Reza Shah Pahlavi, who ruled until 1941 after which his son, Mohammad Reza Shah, continued the dynasty until his exile in 1979.

Reza Shah aimed to lessen the power and authority that the apolitical traditional clergy wielded by increasingly regulating their schools and the country’s judiciary through secular policies. The policies moulded young clerics in these schools toward honing an ambitious and politically awakened mindset, which the Muslim Brotherhood’s teachings greatly facilitated.

Reza Shah Pahlavi along with his son, Mohammad Reza Shah.

Among such young clerics who formed the basis of the Islamic revolution in Iran, household names such as Ayatollah Khomeini, Sayyed Mujtaba Mir Lowhi (also known as Navab Safavi), Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei and Ayatollah Abulqassem Kashani were an impenetrable part.

One such personality’s teachings whose influence on the young clerics was largely overlooked and still ignored is Sayyid Qutb, who was the leader of the Brotherhood following Hassan al-Banna.

According to Rashid Maqbool, Ayatollah Khomeini’s popular slogan, ‘Neither East nor West, only Islam, only Islam’ was originally coined by Qutb in the 1950s.

Touching on Qutb’s impact in pre-revolutionary Iran, Yusuf Unal, a PhD student and Fullbright fellow, specializing in Islamic Civilization studies, in a paper titled, “Sayyid Quṭb in Iran: Translating the Islamist Ideologue in the Islamic Republic”, underlines the paramount importance of the translations that circulated within a then comatose Persia.

He notes how the Iranian translators of Qutb’s work included big names like Iran’s current supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, his brother Muḥammad Khamenei, and Ayatollah Hādī Khōsrōshāhī  (The Islamic Republic’s first ambassador to the Vatican) and others.

“Persian language translations of Sayyid Quṭb’s works played an instrumental role in helping to shape the political and ideological discourses of Islamism in pre-revolutionary Iran. Almost all of Quṭb’s major works, including his voluminous Qur’an commentary FīẒilāl al-Qurʼān (In the Shade of the Qur’an), were rendered into Persian in the 1960s and 1970s as part of what well-known Iranian Islamist and translator of Quṭb, Ayatollah Hādī Khōsrōshāhī, has termed Naḥḍat-i-Tarjama or ‘The Translation Movement.’,” he writes.

Sayyid Quṭb.

Discerning the translations of Qutb to be “invisible means of cultural grounding,” translation theorist Maria Tymoczko in her paper titled, “Translation: Ethics, Ideology, Action,” comments on their ability to have “constructed identities and affiliations” among Iranian Islamists, especially in the younger generation, by teaching Islam as a total ideology against other contending systems of thought.

During the chugging revolutionary cogs of pre-Khomeini Iran, a group, Fadaian-e Islam, or the “Devotees of Islam,” was founded on the idea of pan-Islamic unity through political revival. Its founder, Nawab Safawi is considered to be the most prominent figure of anti-imperialism in Iran, along with Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh and Ayatollah Abol-Ghasem Kashani.

Safawi traveled to Egypt in 1954 and met with the Brotherhood’s leaders, eventually becoming intimately aware of the situation under the then strongman, Gamal Abd al-Nasser’s rule. Penning a letter to him to reconsider his ‘harsh reactions’ to the group, Nawab warned that failure to heed his words would lead to ‘painful regret’.

In a speech on April of 1998, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini dubbed the late Safawi to be one of the few personalities that had influenced his ideas and inspired him to fight for the revolution.

“I was about 15 or 16 when Nawab-Safavi came to Mashhad. I found the late Nawab-Safavi a great person and was completely fascinated by him. All my peers were also interested in him; because he was extremely enthusiastic, pure, and truthful; he was also brave, frank and articulate. I can say that I first became interested in fighting for our cause and what we call a political fight at that time. Of course, I knew some facts before that. My teenage years coincided with the era of Mossadegh. I remembered that in 1951 when Mossadegh had just come to power, the Late Ayatollah Kashani cooperated with him.

“Thus, I was completely familiar with political matters; however, I became interested in political fighting, in its truest sense, after meeting Nawb-Safavi. Shortly after he left Mashhad, Nawab-Safavi was martyred. His martyrdom aroused strong feelings among the youth who had met or known him. Indeed, our fighting background dates back to this time: since 1955 and 1956.”

Nawab Safavi.

Iran’s first democratically elected Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh of the Tudeh Communist Party is perhaps most famously known for nationalizing the Iranian oil industry along with the support and cooperation of Ayatollah Abol-Ghasem Kashani in 1951.

The nationalization led to expulsion of foreign interference from the country, i.e, the disbandment of the Anglo-Iranian oil company, maintained and controlled by Britain. In response to the act, the British government imposed sanctions on Iran and threatened it with a military attack. Iran rebutted by closing the British consulate.

An article by New York Times published in April of 2000 stated that Mossadegh, the popular face of ‘anti-imperialism’ amassing support from the Tudeh party, did not promote their communist interests. Later, the party withdrew their support in the consideration that he was ‘too close to the United States’, whom he believed would help him in the face of British oppression.

The fact that Mossadegh chose to be supported and backed by communists in the face of imperialistic threats alienated him from the religious clergy and Ayatollah Kashani, Sadegh Abbasi, in his article, “1953 coup: Replacing an elected govt with a ‘Fascist’ dictatorship”, observes.

“A lack of support from Ulema (religious clergy) cut Mossadeq from the Iranian masses who were and are largely in favor of the Political Islam which is a key element for the success of any popular movement in Iran. In this background, Mossadeq was overthrown during a royalist coup while he was alienated by both clerics and the communist Tudeh Party,” he states.

Ultimately, in 1953, he was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup codenamed ‘Operation Ajax’.

1952: TIME magazine names the first democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh as the Man of the Year.

In an address denouncing the 1953 coup against the then elected Iranian government, Ayatollah Khomeini said that such a coup took place because the then government had not attached ‘enough significance’ to religious figures of that era. He further criticized the ‘separation between religion and politics’ at the certain juncture of history.

Often and rightly so, Iranian revolutionary and sociologist, Dr. Ali Shariati, is dubbed to be the alchemist and ideologue of the Iranian revolution. This is most notably seen through his reconstruction of Shi’a Islam as a revolutionary ideology and political practice which attracted thousands of followers and supporters.

Research expert in International Relations and International Theory, Dr. Kamran Matin observes Shariati’s beliefs through a multitude of his published books in his paper, “The Alchemist of Revolution: Ali Shariati’s Political Thought in International Context”.

Quoting the ideologue’s 1986 published book, “Religion versus Religion”, Dr. Matin notes: “Shariati believed that the consciousness of Iran’s “oppressed” multitude or “the people” was deeply marked by Islamic political imagination. He attributed the longevity of this circumstance, despite Iran’s experience of rapid and systematic modernisation, to the specificity of Iran’s modern development, which had, according to him, left the unproductive mercantile bourgeoisie (the bazaar) still economically dominant while creating a modern working class that was small and fragmented.”

Shariati vehemently disagreed with the religious clergy’s passive position ‘dominated by resignation and fatalism’, in his book, “On the Sociology of Islam”, due to the argument that ‘Shi’ism, which had begun as a protest … became a tool in the hands of the possessors of money and might. …its true visage became hidden beneath the dust of opportunism, vacillation, and misinterpretation’.

The book delved into a similar concept of Imamat (leadership) to that of Khomeini, explained by Larry Ray as the “dualistic construction of human nature, which permits political authority to be legitimised in the name of the mass, yet held by an elite vanguard.”

A demonstration in Iran in 1979 showcasing Shariati and Khomeini’s posters.

In a 1984 special 12 month issue of English magazine, ‘The Echo of Islam’, Shariati’s last will, published just before his mysterious assassination in 1977 in mid-June, often attributed to the Shah’s secret police organization (SAVAK), stated:

“Being human must accompany every choice of man, otherwise speaking of freedom and free will is meaningless, for these terms are only for God and man and nothing else.

What does “being human” mean?

Man is a being who is aware (of himself and the universe) and creates (himself and the world), believes, waits and is always searching for the absolute. Seeking the absolute; this means many things: prosperity, happiness and the daily success of life and many other things damage this quality.

If we consider these characteristics to be among the intrinsic qualities of man, then how horrible it is to see that in this consuming life and in this civilization of competition, greed and enjoyments these (being human and seeking the absolute) are all being disregarded.

Man is being metamorphosed by the heavy burden of his successes. Today science is changing man into a powerful animal. Be whatever you want to be, but a human.”


To be continued…

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