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SHADOW OF GOD. The ancient Iranians developed an elaborate concept of sacral kingship. Both Achaemenid (559-33 BCE) and Sassanian (224-651 CE) kings were believed to possess farr-1 izadi (divine grace) and ruled by divine dispensation. A mediator with the divine, the king could bring good fortune to his people. Hence, the perceived omnipotence of the king was derived from his divinity.

This concept of divine kingship found its corollary in Islamic statecraft as well. Muslim caliphs and kings claimed to be the Shadow of God, Vicegerent of God on earth, or descendants of the Prophet and imams. Purporting to be Zill Allah (God’s Shadow), many kings considered themselves accountable only to God, thus removing themselves from public scrutiny. Classical Persian texts instruct Muslims that “God has two guardians over the people; his guardians in heaven are the angels, and his guardians on earth are kings” (Nizam al-hulk, The Book of Government or Rules for Kings, London, 196o, p. 294).

With the adoption of Shiism as the state religion under the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722), the elitist concept of imdmah helped to reinforce divine kingship. safavid tribal leaders, such as Junayd (r. 1447-1460), were regarded as divine incarnations, and Junayd’s son, Haydar (r. 146o-1488), was regarded as the son of God. Isma’il, the son of Haydar and the founder of the Safavid dynasty, was considered a forerunner of the Mahdi, or Hidden Imam. Although the Islamic doctrine of tawhid forbids the idea of divinity or reincarnation, through the effective use of Mahdism and imamah, early Safavid kings claimed divinity and incarnation without any considerable doctrinal challenge.

With Karim Khan-i Zand (r. 1750-1779), the monarchy lost its divine connotations. Instead, Zand took the title Vakil-i Ra’aya (Regent of the People) and acted as a patriarchal tribal leader. Zand’s subordination of divine kingship to notions of regency proved temporary, as the Qajar dynasty (1796-1925) reinstituted divinity in kingship.

Although some of the Qajar rulers formally carried the title Shadow of God, they no longer claimed to be the representative of the Hidden Imam. In this context, the mujtahids (learned clerics) collectively claimed some of the authority of the imams, which in Safavid times had devolved on the kings.

In the Pahlavi dynasty (1926-1979) the monarchy became increasingly secularized, but both Pahlavi monarchs used the myth of divine kingship to bolster their power. Muhammad Reza Shah, for example, believed that the monarchy could not survive without its traditional divine aura. He also believed that monarchy had such deep roots in Iranian culture that if he were not the ruler, another king would replace him. As he stated, kings were expected to be “a symbol of earthly redemption, perhaps, because the king was the linkage with the almighty” (E. A. Bayne, Persian Kingship in Transition, New York, 1968, p. 72).

Since Iranian state power historically has been abusive and its institutions corrupt, the people have been loyal to the symbols of state power (the good king) rather than the state itself. The epithet Shadow of God created the image of a divine protector, binding the nation together and validating its mission. In a culture in which politics remains personal and the lines between the sacred and secular are blurred, divine rule of kings personalizes and sacralizes monarchy and personifies the nation-state.

[See also Iran; Qajar Dynasty; Safavid Dynasty; Shah; Zand Dynasty.]


Arjomand, Said Amir. The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam. Chicago, 1984. Penetrating sociological analysis of religion and politics in Iranian history.

Boyce, Mary. Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Lon

don, 1979. Presents an authoritative account of Zoroastrian religion and its impact on the ancient civilization of Iran.

Dorraj, Manochehr. From Zarathustra to Khomeini: Populism and Dissent in Iran. Boulder and London, 1990 Historical study of Iranian populism with emphasis on the impact of pre-Islamic as well as Islamic political traditions.

Meisami, Julie Scott, ed. The Sea of Precious Virtues: A Medieval Islamic Mirror for Princes. Salt Lake City, i991. Very useful collection on medieval Islamic statecraft and kingship.

Wilber, Donald. Iran: Past and Present. Princeton, 1955). Good account of ancient and modern history of Iran.

Zaehner, Robert C. The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism. London, 1961. Good analysis on the rise and demise of Zoroastrian religion.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/shadow-of-god/

  • writerPosted On: July 26, 2017
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