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The religio-political organization known as the Fida’iyan-i Islam (Devotees of Islam) was created in 1945 in Tehran by Sayyid Mujtaba Navvab Safavi. Born in 1923, Navvab claimed descent from the Prophet on his father’s side, and on his mother’s side, from the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722).

Training to become a cleric, Navvab attended the ShN theological school of Najaf in Iraq, where he came across the anticlerical writings of Ahmad Kasravi. Finding Kasravi’s works heretical, Navvab made an unsuccessful attempt on Kasravl’s life, then in March 1946 two of Navvab’s followers murdered Kasravi. [See the biography of Kasravi.]

Taking advantage of the publicity surrounding Kasravi’s murder, Navvab formed an alliance with the powerful political cleric Ayatollah Abu al-Qasim Kashanl (Abol-Qasem Kashani). This union signaled a new activist phase in the life of Fida’iyan-i Islam. In May 1948, the Fida’iyan held a public demonstration of several thousand people in Tehran supporting the Palestinian Arabs and denouncing the Zionists. The following February, an assassin attempted to kill Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. Although not charged directly, the Fida’iyan were suspected of collusion, and their patron,

Kashani, was exiled abroad for his alleged involvement in the plot.

At Kashani’s behest, the Fida’iyan intensified their public agitation. In November 1949, the Fida’iyan assassinated an avowed enemy, the former prime minister and the sitting minister of court, `Abd al-Husayn Hazhir. Martial law was declared in Tehran, and after a short trial, the convicted murderer was hanged. This execution increased public tension, particularly in the holy city of Qom. Finally, as agitation intensified, the government permitted Kashani’s return.

The Fida’iyan soon found themselves involved in the public debate on oil nationalization. Prime Minister Husayn `All Razmara, who was negotiating with the British for a new oil agreement, was assassinated in March 1951 by a close follower of Navvab. Although Kashani was implicated in Razmara’s assassination, no action was taken against him, and the assassin spent only a few months in jail.

Less than two weeks after Razmard’s death, the dean of the School of Law at Tehran University, `Abd alHamid Zanganah, was assassinated. The atmosphere of terror associated with the Fida’Iyan clearly contributed to this new act.

After the National Front government of Dr. Muhammad Musaddiq (Mohammad Mossadegh) came to power, the Fidd’iyan’s relationship with Kashanl ruptured. Left without a prominent protector, Navvab and most of the Fida’iyan’s top leadership were jailed by the government. In February 1952 the Fida’Iydn attempted to assassinate Dr. Husayn Fatimi, a prominent National Front Majlis (“parliament”) deputy. Navvab was kept in jail, then released in early 1953.

The coup of August 1953 returned the shah to the throne and ushered in a new phase for the Fida’Iyan. At first quiescent, the Fida’iyan attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Husayn ‘Aia in November 1955 on the eve of his departure for Iraq to formally sign Iran’s participation in the pro-Western Baghdad Pact. Although injured, the prime minister proceeded to Baghdad as scheduled.

The government swiftly arrested the Fida’Iyan leaders, including their former associate, Kashanl. Most of those arrested were soon released, but Navvdb and three of his closest allies were sentenced to death and executed in January 1956. Even though the trials and executions ended the Fida’iyan as an organization, some of their followers continued to operate clandestinely.

The Fida’iyan’s name was associated indirectly with a group known as Hizb-i Milal-i Islami (Islamic Nations Party), which succeeded in assassinating Prime Minister Hasan ‘Ali Mansur in January 1965. Some members of this group had been members of the Fida’iyan. After the success of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Fida’iyan reemerged under the self-proclaimed leadership of the cleric Sadiq Khalkhali. But because many of the Fidd’iyan goals were already enshrined in the new regime’s programs, they soon disappeared from the political arena.

The actual size of the Fida’Iyan membership is in dispute. At its height, the organization probably had somewhere between thirty thousand and forty thousand members and a much larger number of sympathizers. The membership was concentrated in a few major cities, particularly Tehran, Mashhad, and Qom. The Fidd’iyan attracted young semiliterate and illiterate Muslims on the fringes of urban society. Most were youths between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five who held low-status occupations in or around the bazaar. Navvab remained the acknowledged leader of the group, although his lieutenants, the Vahidi brothers, continued to play a key role in the organization.

The Fida’iyan’s strength was based on their critical alliance with the clergy and their acts of terror. They also established contacts with Muslims in other countries. Navvab traveled to Egypt, saw leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and made contacts with coreligionists in Jordan, Iraq, and probably Turkey. Yet none of these were ties of long-range significance.

The Fida’iyan’s finances were secured through influential sympathizers in the bazaar merchant community and among certain clerical elements. They disseminated their messages through several publications, including newspapers, regular broadsheets, and leaflets. Their major book of ideology, Rdhnamdh yi haqa’iq (The Guide to Truth), published in 1950, includes their most complete statement and blueprint for a new ShM Islamic order.

Highly puritanical in scope, Rdhnamdh yi haqa’iq pronounced the Fida’iyan’s ultimate goal to create a new order based on shari `2.h (Islamic law). It envisaged a state in which religion and politics were necessary parts of the same system and a society in which the divine laws and injunctions provided the moral and legal basis for all acts. In such a system parliament would not legislate; it would be merely a consultative assembly ensuring that all existing and future regulations were in accordance with Shi`i Islamic precepts. Monarchy was not necessarily unacceptable if the monarch obeyed Islamic precepts. The clerics in the Fidd’iyan state would be entrusted with a multiplicity of functions, ranging from administering to the masses’ religious needs, to serving as judges of the Islamic courts, to implementing an Islamic educational system. The clerics would ensure that ethics and morality would be observed and gender separation in the public sphere, including schools, would be strictly observed. As judges of the Islamic courts, the clerics would supervise a strict penal code that included cutting off a thief’s hand and public whipping of an adulterer.

The Fida’iyan perceived women as second-class citizens, confined to the home. They viewed the idea of women’s rights as detrimental to the moral fabric of the social order and endorsed the Shi’i concept of temporary marriage as a remedy for prostitution. The Fida’iyan were also minimally tolerant of certain religious minorities, such as Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, who were given limited protected rights. The Baha’is had no place in the Fida’iyan system.

The Fida’iyan considered the accumulation of wealth a legitimate economic  activity and encouraged commerce as long as Islamic antiusury norms were maintained. They combined encouragement of business with a strong sense of social welfare and general charity toward the poor.

The importance of the Fidd’iyan in Iranian and Islamic history lies in their forceful articulation of certain rigid principles of religion for the social order. However, their willingness to legitimize violence on the basis of religious dogma and their daring acts of violence made their impact far greater than their organizational strength or numbers justify.

[See also Iran and the biography of Kdshdni. ]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Enayat, Hamid. Modern Islamic Political Thought. Austin, 1982.. Useful overview of modern movements in the Islamic world, with some attention to the ShiI areas.

Ferdows, Amir K. “Khomeini and Fadayan’s Society and Politics.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 15 (May 1983): 241257. Interesting comparison of the Fida’iyan ideology and its relevance to the Islamic Republic of Iran as envisaged by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Fida’iyan-i Islam. Rdhnamdh yi haqa’iq (The Guide to Truth). Tehran, 1329/1950. The Fida’iyan’s major statement of ideology and their blueprint for a new Shi`i-Islamic order.

Kazemi, Farhad. “The Fada’iyan-e Islam: Fanaticism, Politics, and Terror.” In From Nationalism to Revolutionary Islam, edited by Said Amir Arjomand, pp. 158-176. London, 1984. Comprehensive overview of the Fida’iyan’s history, organization, political involvement, social base, and ideology.

Kazemi, Farhad. “State and Society in the Ideology of the Devotees of Islam.” State, Culture, and Society i (Spring 1985): 118-135. Analysis of the Fida’iyan’s major book of ideology, The Guide to Truth.

Rahnema, Ali, and Farhad Nomani. The Secular Miracle: Religion, Politics, and Economic Policy in Iran. London, 1990. Interesting analysis of interactions between religion, politics, and economic policy in Shi`i Iran with special attention to four subsystemic roots of the Islamic Republic, including the Fida’Iyan’s.

Richard, Yann. “L’organisation des Feda’iyan-e Eslam, Mouvement Integriste Musulman en Iran, 1945-1956” In Radicalismes Islamiques, vol. 1, Iran, Liban, Turquie, edited by Olivier Carre and Paul Dumont, pp. 23-82. Paris, 1985. Account of the Fida’iyan’s rise, history, ideology, and relevance to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

FARHAD KAZEMI

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/fidaiyan-i-islam/
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  • writerPosted On: March 10, 2013
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