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BAZARGAN, MEHDI (1 September 1907 – 20 January 1995), Iranian Muslim modernist and reformer, regarded as one of the major voices of Islamic opposition in the pre- and postrevolutionary eras. Mehdi Bazargan was born into a religious family of bazaar merchants. His elementary and secondary education in Tehran combined traditional Qur’anic learning with a modern curriculum. In 1928 he was one of the few students chosen by the government to study abroad. He studied engineering at the Ecole Centrale in Paris, returning to Iran in 1935 after receiving his doctorate. After a year of military service, he worked at the National Bank and joined the engineering faculty of Tehran University. Later in the 1930s he began a lifelong collaboration with Sayyid Mahmud Taleqani, one of the leading oppositionist clergy, spreading the message of progressive Islam. In 1939 he was imprisoned for opposing the shah’s religious policies. Since 1941, Bazargan has been instrumental in establishing various professional Islamic organizations, including Muslim student associations and the Association of Engineers.

As an ardent nationalist Bazargan was also drawn to Mohammad Mossadegh’s nationalist cause. After World War II he collaborated with Mossadegh and the National Front. Known for his honesty and integrity, he was named deputy minister in 1951, heading a committee that supervised the nationalization of Iranian oil. Subsequently he became the first chairman of the board of directors of the National Iranian Oil Company.

After the downfall of Mossadegh in the CIA-backed coup d’etat of 1953, he joined the nationalist resistance movement, Nahzat-i Muqavamat-i Milli (NMR). The NMR was crushed in 1957 and many of its leaders, including Bazargan, were imprisoned. In 1961, with Ayatollah Taleqani and Yadollah Sahabi, he founded the Liberation Movement of Iran (LMI), which called for an end to foreign domination and the restoration of constitutional and democratic rights. Their political activities brought all three men prison terms. Between 1963 and 1977, Bazargan was sentenced to several short prison terms for his political activities.

In the 1950s and 1960s Bazargan also collaborated with Ayatollah Murtaza Mutahhari, another prominent cleric, by contributing to the monthly Religious Society Lectures. Mutahhari, Taleqani, and Bazargan were among the founders of the Islamic Association of Teachers and organized its first and second national congresses.

Shortly before the emergence of massive anti shah political activism in the late 1970s, Bazargan co-founded the Human Rights Association in 1977 to defend the democratic rights of the opposition. Bazargan also played an active role in the revolution that toppled the shah, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sent him to organize the oil workers’ strikes in mid-1978. In February 1979 Khomeini appointed him as the first prime minister of the provisional government, but in November of that year he resigned complaining of powerlessness and multiple centers of power and more specifically over the seizure of the American embassy on 4 November 1979. Bazargan was also a member of the Council of the Islamic Revolution and was elected to the first parliament in 198o as a representative for Tehran. In the early 1980s when the Islamic Republic launched a major assault on the opposition, Bazargan’s LMI was the only political group that escaped suppression. Although tolerated as a loyal opposition, LMI members were often imprisoned and harassed. Disillusioned with the policies of the Islamic Republic in general and the suppression of democratic rights in particular, Bazargan cofounded the Association for the Defense of the Freedom and Sovereignty of the Iranian Nation (ADFSIN) in 1984. In the early 1990s Bazargan was active in both the LMI and ADFSIN.

Throughout his political career Bazargan has attempted to reconcile Shi’i theology with the modern world and his own democratic aspirations. His politics represent a synthesis of nationalism, gradualism, liberalism, and Islam. These attributes distinguished him from the traditionalist clergy, such as Khomeini, and the radical Islamists, such as ‘Ali Shari’ati. Whereas Shari`ati’s firebrand rhetoric galvanized the youth and Khomeini articulated the resentment of the underprivileged and the traditional social groups, Bazargan’s appeal was confined to more enlightened members of the traditional middle class. By the time the revolutionary mass movement erupted, Bazargan’s political reformism was out of step with the revolutionary fervor of the masses. Bazargan’s liberalism and gradualism had a wider appeal in the 1950s when Mossadegh’s liberalism and his parliamentary method of political struggle captured the imagination of the postwar generation. But by the mid-1960’s and early 1970s, because of the radicalizing impact of such global events as the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cuban revolutions on Iranian youth, Bazargan’s reformist political program and his liberal rendition of Islam seemed increasingly irrelevant to them. The generation of the 1960s had no memory of Mossadegh’s liberal nationalism; rather, it was inspired by a radical vision that attributed the defeat of Mossadegh to his parliamentary method of political struggle. Some of the founding members of Mujahidin-i Khalq, a guerrilla organization that fought against the shah’s regime and the Islamic Republic, began their political careers as members of the LMI, many joining the party in 1963; by 1965, inspired by the example of armed struggle, they founded their own political party. Therefore, the moderate LMI did not greatly grow in strength throughout the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Iranian Revolution

On 4 February 1979, after the revolution forced the Shah to leave Iran, Bazargan was appointed prime minister of Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini. He was seen as one of the democratic and liberal figureheads of the revolution who came into conflict with the more radical religious leaders – including Ayatollah Khomeini himself – as the revolution progressed. Although pious, Bazargan initially disputed the name Islamic Republic, wanting an Islamic Democratic Republic. He had also been a supporter of the original (non-theocratic) revolutionary draft constitution, and opposed the Assembly of Experts for Constitution and the constitution they wrote that was eventually adopted as Iran’s constitution.

Bazargan resigned along with his cabinet on 4 November following the US Embassy takeover and hostage-taking. His resignation was considered a protest against the hostage-taking and a recognition of his government’s inability to free the hostages, but it was also clear that his hopes for liberal democracy and an accommodation with the West would not prevail.

Bazargan continued in Iranian politics as a member of the first Parliament (Majles) of the newly formed Islamic Republic. He openly opposed Iran’s Cultural Revolution and continued to advocate civil rule and democracy. In November 1982 he expressed his frustration with the direction the Islamic Revolution had taken in an open letter to the then speaker of parliament Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The government has created an atmosphere of terror, fear, revenge and national disintegration. … What has the ruling elite done in nearly four years, besides bringing death and destruction, packing the prisons and the cemeteries in every city, creating long queues, shortages, high prices, unemployment, poverty, homeless people, repetitious slogans and a dark future?

In 1985 the Council of Guardians denied Bazargan’s petition to run for president. He died of a heart attack on 20 January 1995 while traveling from Tehran to Zurich, Switzerland.

Bazargan is considered to be a respected figure within the ranks of modern Muslim thinkers, well known as a representative of liberal-democratic Islamic thought and a thinker who has emphasized the necessity of constitutional and democratic policies. He opposed the continuation of Iran-Iraq war and the involvement of clerics in all aspects of politics, economy and society. Consequently, he faced harassment from militants and young revolutionaries within Iran.

Bazargan is noted for having done some of the first work in human thermodynamics, as found in his 1946 chapter “A Physiological Analysis of Human Thermodynamics” and his 1956 book Love and Worship: Human Thermodynamics, the latter of which being written while in prison, in which he attempted to show that religion and worship are a byproduct of evolution, as explained in English naturalist Charles Darwin’s 1859 Origin of Species, and that the true laws of society are based on the laws of thermodynamics.

[See also Iranian Revolution of 1979; Liberation Movement of Iran; and the biographies of Mutahhari and Taleqdni. ]


Bazargan, Mehdi. Mudafa’at dar dadgah-i ghayr-i salih-i tajdid-i nazari nizami. Tehran, 1971. Good biographical source on Bazargan’s personal life and political career.

Bazargan, Mehdi. Rah-i Tayy shudah. Houston, 1977. Reflects on the political problems of Iranian society, including the role of opposition groups under the Pahlavis, and proposes remedies to overcome them.

Bazargan, Mehdi. Bazyabi-i arzishha. Tehran, 1983. Provides an interesting perspective on the evolution of Bazargan’s Islamic modernism.

Bazargan, Mehdi. Inqilab-i Iran dar du harakat. Tehran, 1984. Analysis of the Iranian Revolution and the postrevolutionary situation, from the political perspective of the Liberation Movement of Iran. Chehabi, H. E. Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini. Ithaca, N.Y., 1990 One of the best studies available to date on Bazargan and the Liberation Movement of Iran.

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/bazargan-mehdi/

  • writerPosted On: November 2, 2012
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