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QOM. A small provincial town south of Tehran, Qom (or Qum) is the site of Hazrat-i Ma’sumah, the shrine of Fatimah, sister of the eight Imam, the second most important Shi’i shrine in Iran, and the leading center of Shi’i theological seminaries in Iran. The gold-domed shrine and its spacious New or Atabegi Courtyard are filled daily with pilgrims. Entry to the shrine is through a mirrored portal from the Atabegi Courtyard, built in 1883, along the sides of which are graves of nobles and ministers of the Qajar dynasty. The present dome was constructed under the Safavids and gilded by the Qajars. Four Safavid shahs are buried in a mosque behind the main shrine as are three leaders of the Qom seminaries. Behind the shrine is the new blue-domed A’zam or Borujerdi Mosque, a major teaching space for the highest level of study, the dars-i kharij. Two Qajar shahs are buried to the right of the shrine in the Old Courtyard, behind which are two more courtyards, turned by the Safavids into the Dar al-Shifa’ and Faydiyah Seminaries, centers of political activity in 1963, 1975, and 19771979. The shrine courtyard and the Borujerdi Mosque are important places for leading communal prayers and sermons. The shrine has been an economic and state institution; a focus of endowments and commercial rents dedicated to its upkeep, as well as a symbolic site whose opening and closing each day is accompanied by state-appointed guards chanting the sovereignty of the reigning government under Allah.

Economically, with little modern industry, the town depends on its farming hinterland, produces some fine carpets, but primarily provides services to pilgrims, religious students, and the religious establishment. Although Qom has a madrasah (seminary) tradition that can be traced back a thousand years, the current set of madrasahs are only some fifty years old and provided a major center of resistance to the Pahlavi monarchy. When Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini returned to Iran to lead the Islamic Revolution of 1979, he went immediately to Qom. Although Khomeini, as head of state, later moved to Tehran, Qom remained a key seat of educational and political organizations of the `ulama’ (clergy). Qom’s history provides a microcosm of currents in Iran’s state-clergy relations, from the time of the establishment of Islam and then of the struggles to establish Shiism.

Qom’s historians revel in its reputation as an obstreperous ShN center, tracing this posture back to the early Shi`i resistance to the Umayyads. Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, a representative of the first Imam, `All, visited Qom in AH 23/644 CE, but Qom remained Zoroastrian and paid jizyah (the tax on protected minorities) for some time. The great Sassanian ritual fire in the nearby village of Mazdiajan was extinguished only in AH 288/899 CE by the governor of Qom, Bayram Turk. Qom, however, became a refuge for opponents of the Umayyads during this early period. After Mutraf ibn Mughirahs revolt against the governor of Iraq, Hajjaj ibn Yfisuf alThaqafi, failed in AH 66-67/685-687 CE, a group of his followers, the Ban! Asad, came to settle in a village outside of Qom, called jam Karan (now an important sec

ondary shrine of the area). A decade later refugees from the unsuccessful jihad of `Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad al-Ash’ath (governor of Seistan) against Hajjaj also came to Qom (c. 78/697). `Abd al-Rahman’s army had included seventeen tabi’in (disciples of the Prophet’s companions), and among the refugees who came to Quom were the sons of Sa’ib who had fought with Mukhtar in the unsuccessful attempt to revenge Husayn in Kufa under the banner of his brother, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyah. The first of `Abd al-Rahman’s followers to arrive in Qom were the brothers `Abd Allah and Ahwas Ash`ari. They were welcomed by the Zoroastrian, Yazdan Fizar of Abrastigan Qom, and were given a village, Muhammadan, apparently in recognition of aid the Ash`aris had previously given Qom in efforts to stay independent of the Daylamis. The alliance was shortlived, however: a quarrel broke out, the Ash’aris were asked to leave; instead they slaughtered the leading Zoroastrians. The other Zoroastrians began to leave or converted to Islam. Among the Ash`ari sons were twelve rawi (transmitters of riwayat or hadith) of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, the twelfth Imam.

From these beginnings, Qom next developed a reputation for resisting Sunni governors and their tax demands. Husayn Mudarris! Tabataba’i (1350/1975) lists five occasions in the ninth century alone when the town had to be militarily reduced before taxes could be collected. In contrast, a Shi’i governor was given so much cooperation that he was removed by the caliph lest he claim independence. During the ninth. century there were 266 Shi’l `ulama’. and 14 Sunni `ulama’ in the town; among the former were the Babuyah family and their most renowned son, counted now as a marja` altaqlid (supreme guide in religious matters), Shaykh alSaduq ibn Babuyah. On these grounds, Qom lays claim to being an older hawzah-i `ilmi (center of religious learning) than Najaf (in southern Iraq), although the scholarly tradition had periods of virtual disappearance.

It was to this Shi’i town that Fatimah, the sister of the eighth Imam, ‘Ali al-Rids, came when she fell ill in Saveh (then a Sunni town) en route to visit her brother in Mashhad. She died in Qom, and over the years her grave has come to be the second most important shrine of Iran: the shrine of Hazrat-i Ma’sumah, Fatimah. The first mutawalli (administrator) of the shrine appears to have been a representative of the eleventh Imam, and was of the Ash’ari family, Ahmad ibn Ishaq Ash’ari The first dome was constructed over the grave in the sixth century, and the shrine apparently served as a pilgrimage site for Sunnis as well as ShNs. The dome was redone in the Safavid period and was gilded in the Qajar period. Fatimah’s sister has a smaller shrine in the village of Kohak, a place that at times competed with Qom for predominance.

By the ninth/fifteenth century Qom’s identity had begun to crystallize: it became, in addition to a Shi`i center and a shrine, a place of royal interest. Jahan Shah, Uzun Hasan, Sultan Ya’qub, Alvand Sultan, and Sultan Murad all used Qom as a winter hunting capital (Uzun Hasan was visited here by envoys from Venice), Sultan Muhammad Bahadur briefly established a semiindependent state centered on Qom. Jahan Shah Karakoyunlu issued the earliest extant firmdn (royal order), dated 867/1462, naming Ahmad Nizamuddin as mutawalli of the shrine and naqib (local head) of the sayyids. He also sponsored majlis wa’iz (preachments) in Qom. From later furmans it becomes clear that the two jobs of nagib and mutawalli always went together and were assumed to be hereditary in the Razavi sayyid family of Musa Mubaqah, which had come to Qom in the ninth century. (This family has a large set of mausoleums on the edge of town.)

The Safavid shahs Isma`il and Tahmasp continued the tradition of using Qom as a winter capital. But the Safavids built Qom into something much grander than it had ever been. The tombs of Shahs `Abbas II, Safi, Sulayman, and Sultan Husayn were placed here, near the shrine of Fatimah, Hazrat-i Ma’sumah. The shrine was refurbished and two of its four courtyards were turned into the Madrasah Faydiyah with a small hospital behind for pilgrims, the Dar al-Shafa. Important teachers were brought: Mullahs Muhsin Fayd, `Abd alRazzaq Lahiji, Sadra Shirazi, and Tahir Qummi and Qadi Said. Several administrative arrangements were tried: for a while the governor was the mutawalli; for a while there were three mutawallis, one each for the tombs of Fatimah, Shah `Abbas II, and Shah Safi. But the main mutawalli was Mirza Habib Allah ibn Mir Husayn Khatim al-Mujtahidin and later his descendants; he had been brought from Lebanon by Shah Tahmasp with his father and two brothers. The two brothers were made mutawalli of the Shah `Abd al`Azim shrine in Rey and the Shah Safi shrine in Ardebil. These jobs remained hereditary until 1965 when Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi ousted them. Whether the custom is older is unclear, but under the Safavids the shrine became a place of bast-nishin (sanctuary), where one could take refuge from the law until a judgment thought to be unfair could be sorted out. At times this legal recourse tended to degenerate into a device used mainly by debtors.

The Qajars continued the tradition of placing royal and noble mausoleums at the shrine of Fatimah, with the tombs of Fath `All Shah, Muhammad Shah, and the many Qajar ministers: Qa’immaqam and Mirza `Ali Akbar Khan among others. They rebuilt sections of the shrine, the grand Sahn-i Jadid (New Courtyard) being built by Amin al-Sultan in 1883. The bast tradition continued despite efforts by the prime minister, Mirza `Ali Akbar Khan, to abolish it. The madrasahs, however, lost their vitality after the death of the scholar Mirza Qummi in 1231/1804, although several of them were rebuilt under Fath `Ali Shah (1797-1834), and the Jani Khan Madrasah was rebuilt under Nasir al-Din Shah (1848-1896).

In the twentieth century two social vectors became increasingly important and contested: first, the hawzah-i `ilmi was reestablished in Qom, but this time not through royal or aristocratic patronage; second, the Pahlavi state began to eliminate or reduce the spheres of influence claimed by the religious leaders: law, education, endowments, registry of contracts, and through control of television and radio even the dissemination of religious propaganda.

The year 1920, when Shaykh `Abd al-Karim Ha’iriYazdi arrived from Arak (Soltanabad) after leaving Iraq, is usually given for the modern founding of the hawzahi `ilmi of Qom. HA’irl-Yazdi arrived as part of the exodus back to Iran by Shi`i leaders who were concerned that the uncertain transition between Ottoman and British rule in Iraq might jeopardize their position in the `atabat (shrine towns of Iraq). Shaykh Murtaza Ansari earlier had sent Mir Muhammad `Ali Shushtari Jazayiri to reconnoiter Qom and Mashhad. Then in 1916 Ayatollah Fayd Qummi, joined later by others, returned to Qom to restore the old madrasahs to their original purpose. Shops and storage areas had to be converted back to student rooms in the Madrasah Faydiyah. Even wheat bakeries had to be set up. Over the course of a full century-since the death in 1815 of Mirza Qummi, author of the Qawanin (Laws)- -Qom’s madrasahs had fallen into disuse and ruin and the town had suffered “an intellectual famine” (Rahimi, 1339/1961). After establishing a minimal basis for a hawzah-i `ilmi, Ayatollah Mirza Mahmud Ruhani and Shaykh Husayn Qummi were dispatched to Arak to invite and persuade Ha’iriYazdi to come. He did so, bringing with him a large following, including those who were to succeed after his death (in 1935): Ayatollahs Muhammad `All Ha’iri Qummi (d. 1939), and Muhammad Hujjat Kuhkamari came immediately, as did Khomeini and Muhammad Riza Gulpaygani; Ahmad Khusari came in 1923, Shihab al-Din Mar’ashi and Muhammad Kazim Shari`atmadari in 1924, and Ayatollah Sadr al-Din Sadr in 1930. Almost immediately on the reestablishment of the Qom hawzah, it was able to play host to refugees from Iraq: Shi`i I, resistance to the British caused for short periods both the voluntary and nonvoluntary exile of students and teachers.

How much of a change the growth of the madrasahs made to life in Qom can only be estimated from a series of incidents: the campaign of Ayatollah Bafqi to keep men from cutting their beards, the staging by Nur Allah Isfahani in Qom of calls for the ousting of the dictator Reza Shah (1925), the clash between Bafqi and Reza Shah over the veiling of the royal women in the shrine, the burning of wine shops, opposition to modern schools, opposition to the enfranchisement of women, student harangues against the Tudeh (Communist) party, and opposition to the introduction of cinema and television. Not all the acts of the religious leaders, however, were conservative in this sense as can be seen in their leadership in building hospitals, welfare systems, libraries, and flood walls. Indeed some of the conservatism was reaction to Pahlavi-government-led anticlericalism. Some of the `ulama’. had helped with the establishment of modern schools at the turn of the century, but by the 1930s people who grew up in Qom told stories of having to dodge heckling talaba (religious students) on their way to school, especially the girls. The ambivalence of the `ulama’. had to do with the growth of government regulatory functions in education and in the administration of endowments (a key source of revenues). Secular education beyond elementary school did not exist until 1935, but a coeducational school opened that year, adult education was offered by the government, and fifteen more schools were opened in the next two years; by 1937 there were three high schools.

These were years of great pressure against the religious establishment. The great struggle over dressing like Europeans and unveiling women came in 19351936. Attempts were made to license those who had a right to wear religious garb (i.e., traditional dress), and the number of talaba began to decline, reaching a low of 500 or fewer at the end of Reza Shah’s reign in 1941 (Razi, 1332/1954 vol. 2, p. 119). When Ha’iri-Yazdi

died in 1935, not only were laws in effect against rawzah khvdni preachments, but a formal death memorial for him was disallowed (though the inpouring of people to Qom to chant in the streets could not be prevented). In 1938 the government tried to introduce exams for the religious students to regulate their progress and to formalize procedures for exemption from the army. The examinations were evaded by a plea from the hawzah leadership that the date set had fallen on the death anniversary of Shaykh Muhammad `Al! Qummi and the students had to convene a memorial service. The government acquiesced and did not try to reinstitute the examinations. In 1975 those who were at least middlelevel students and had six years of secular education could ask a committee of hawzah teachers to certify to the Office of Education that they were students in good standing, and this was forwarded with a request for deferrment to the gendarmerie. Direct control over religious students thus was abandoned in favor of informal surveillance. Resistance to open procedures had led to expansion of covert procedures. Similarly, rejuvenation of the shrine with its endowments as a state-linked religious center and the expansion of control by the Office of Endowments over all religious endowments in Qom were viewed by the religious establishment as parts of a process directed against its claims to leadership in all religious and moral matters.

As tensions intensified, Qom became a site of increasing resistance to the policies of the Pahlavi state. In June 1963 and again in June 1975 there were major demonstrations in Qom that were direct precursors to the revolution of 1977-1979. In 1963 Khomeini was arrested for leading the opposition to the enfranchisement of women, the Local Council Election Bill of 1962, land reform, the sixpoint White Revolution, and a major military loan from the United States, which was tied to immunity from Iranian law for American service personnel. Three months earlier demonstrations by religious students had led to the occupation of the madrasahs of Qom by security forces. On the fifteenth of Khurdad (5 June), a date that was to become a symbolic anniversary thereafter, which fell at the end of the emotional first ten days of Muharram that year, Khomeini was arrested, and resistance among the religious students in the central Madrasah Faydiyah was quelled, a number of students losing their lives by being tossed by gendarmes from the roof of the madrasah into the dry riverbed below. Within two hours of Khomeini’s arrest in Qom, crowds had also gathered in front of the Tehran bazaar; by 10:00 A.M. troops had fired on them. For three days disturbances continued in Tehran, Qom, Mashhad, Isfahan, and Shiraz; thousands are said to have died.

Twelve years later, the fifteenth of Khurdad 1975 fell just after the new single-party (Rastakhiz party) state had been declared, during the registration for the first elections under the new party. Khomeini, who had been in exile since 1963, had smuggled into Iran pamphlets denouncing the new party as merely a tool for tightening the dictatorship. At the same time the antiinflation campaign was moving into high gear, with many arrests of businesspeople. Students in Madrasah Faydiyah began to recite twenty thousand blessings (salavat) on the defenders of Islam (Khomeini) and curses (la’nat) on the enemies of Islam (the shah), keeping count on their prayer beads. Crowds gathered. The police and elite army units moved in. The disturbances went on for three days.

In 1975 there were 6,414 students listed in the seminary registers. Only a quarter of these were unmarried. There was a small sprinkling of international students from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Lebanon, Tanzania, Turkey, Nigeria, Kashmir, and Indonesia. By social background, the two major sources of students were sons of farmers and sons of clerics. There were some fourteen traditional style madrasahs and four innovative new ones attempting to introduce modern teaching methods and subjects. The madrasahs and associated activities were roughly grouped into three major establishments around the three marja` al-taqlids: Shari’atmadari, Gulpaygani, and Mar’ash-i Najafi. These establishments put out religious journals and books, sent missionaries abroad (to London, to India, to the Persian Gulf states, to Africa, etc.), and maintained a bureau of itinerant preachers who could be sent out to small villages.

During the revolution of 1977-1979 Qom, of course, remained a focus of activity, and after the revolution it has continued to play an important role in the affairs of the state and society. It is as well the home not only of those religious leaders and lower-rank personnel who guide and support the religious leadership of the state, but also of several important figures who have criticized the state from within the ranks of Islamic ideology.


Fischer, Michael M. J. Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution. Cambridge, Mass., 1980.

Razi, Shaykh Muhammad. Ganjina-i danishmandan. 5 volumes. Qom, Piruz. 1352-1353/1973-1974.

Tabataba’i, Husayn Mudarrisi. Qum dar qarn-i nuhum-i hijri. Qom, 1350/1971.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/qom/

  • writerPosted On: July 8, 2017
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