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AHMAD KASRAVI (1890-1946), major historian of modern Iran, political thinker, iconoclastic secularist, and founder of an ideological school named the Azadigan (Freedom) Society.


Kasravi was born into a traditional middle-class family in Tabriz and raised for the clerical profession. But in his late youth he broke with Islam in general and the Shi`i `ulama’ in particular. This breach was prompted in part by the local clergy’s opposition to the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1909) and in part by the failure of the traditional sciences to calculate the movement of the stars, particularly the 1911 arrival of Halley’s comet. This led Kasravi to study Western astronomy, which in turn led him to explore rational-scientific thought, especially that of the French Enlightenment.

Leaving the clerical profession, Kasravi served as a civil judge until 1929, when he was dismissed for ruling in favor of small landlords expropriated by Reza Shah. He also taught for a while in Tehran University, until he was removed for openly criticizing Hafiz, Sa’di, Khayyam, and other mystic Persian poets. He criticized them for using esoteric language and for advocating fatalism, wine drinking, and homosexuality.

From 1932 until his assassination in 1946, Kasravi single-mindedly devoted himself to developing a civic ideology stressing the importance of social solidarity and national integration. He termed this ideology Pakdin (Clean Religion). He argued that Iran’s backwardness was not so much owed to foreign intervention and despotic governments-although both, he admitted, played a role-but to individual egoism overriding social altruism and factionalism dividing the nation along sectarian lines. He ennumerated these factional cleavages as tribalism, regionalism, linguistic communalism, and religious sectarianism-especially the Baha’i faith, Sufism, Shaykhiyah, and most serious of all, Shiism. He also argued that the recent introduction of Marxism into Iran was further dividing the country along class lines.

He hammered away at these themes in over fifty pamphlets as well as in his journals Paymdn (The Promise) and Parcham (The Flag). Even his monumental history of modern Iran-Tarikh-i mashrutah -yi Iran (The History of the Iranian Constitutional Movement) and Tarikh-i hijdah salah -yi Azerbayjan (Eighteen-Year History of Azerbaijan)-was written to stress the importance of national integration and social solidarity. As he admitted, he had undertaken the work to show that Azerbaijan was an integral part of Iran, that the reform movement had been damaged by social conflicts, and that the 1905 revolution had been shipwrecked on the dangerous rocks of factionalism (“Again Concerning Azerbaijan,” Parcham, 6 December 1942).

Kasravi directed his sharpest attacks at Shiism. He denounced it for having begun as a dynastic power struggle; for imposing itself on Iran during the Safavid era (1501-1722) through sheer terror; for falsifying history by inventing the Twelfth Imam (Mahdi) and claiming that he had gone into occultation (ghaybah); for undermining the legitimacy of the state by questioning its authority to levy taxes and impose military conscription; for encouraging mendacity through the practice of ta

qiyah (dissimulation); for implicity opposing democracy and popular soverignty by claiming that true soveignty lay with the Hidden Imam and his deputies, the mujtahids; and for insisting that the faithful should blindly follow their clerical leaders. He also denounced Shiism for perpetuating such “medieval superstitions” as that the imams predated the universe; that the dead imams resided in their tombs, listened to pilgrims, interceded on their behalf with God, and even cured incurable diseases-something even the Prophet had never claimed. He further noted that the Shi’is had taken their concept of the Mahdi from Christianity and Zoroastrianism. [See Mahdi; Ghaybah; Taqiyah.]

Not surprisingly, Kasravi aroused the wrath of the `ulama’ Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in his very first political work, Kashf al-asrdr (Secrets Unveiled; 1943) defended the traditional Shi`i doctrines against Kasravi. Other clerical leaders declared him an “apostate” and claimed that the Azadigan Society, in its periodic bookburning sessions, was incinerating not only Sufi poetry but also the Holy Qur’an. In March 1946, Kasravi was assassinated by a member of the fundamentalist Fida’iyan-i Islam. Years later, Khomeini described Kasravi as an “excellent historian” who had later gone “crazy,” claiming to be a prophet sent to establish a new religion (Kayhdn, 19 July 198o). Khomeini always featured prominently Kasravi’s History of the Iranian Constitutional Movement in his study.

[See also Iran.]


Abrahamian, Ervand. “Kasravi: The Integrative Nationalist of Iran.” Middle East Studies 9 (October 1973): 271-295.

Jazayery, Mohammad Ali. “Ahmad Kasravi and the Controversy over Persian Poetry” (Parts 1 and 2). International Journal of Middle East Studies 4 (April 1973): 190-203, and 13 (August 1981): 311-327. Kasravi, Ahmad. On Islam and ShNsm. Translated by Mohammad R. Ghanooparvar. Costa Mesa, Calif., 1990. Contains a good outline of Kasravi’s thought by Mohammad Ali Jazayery.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/kasravi-ahmad/

  • writerPosted On: July 20, 2014
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