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TALEQANI, MAHMUD (1910-1979), Iranian cleric and political activist, a key ideologue of the Islamic Revolution Of 1978-1979. Talegani (or Taliqani) was born into a family of `ulama’ (religious scholars) in the Taleqan Valley northwest of Tehran and spent his childhood in the capital, where his father was prayer leader of a mosque.

After extensive studies at the seminaries of Qom and Najaf, he settled in Tehran in 1939 His opposition to royal dictatorship was deepened when in that same year he was jailed for three months for not carrying with him a government-issued license exempting `ulama’ from Reza Shah’s European dress code. Disappointed with the `ulama’s preoccupation with matters of faith and indifference to the country’s sociopolitical conditions, he sought refuge in the sources of religion, chiefly the Qur’an. Beginning in 1939 he organized Qur’an interpretation sessions, in which he attempted to draw exemplary significance from the holy book in a language nonscholars could understand. His main preoccupation after Reza Shah’s abdication in 1941 was the rapid spread of communist influence among the youth. Since neither repression nor traditional religion could stop the flow of ideas, the formulation of an attractive ideological alternative was the only solution. Talegani collaborated with Mehdi Bazargan in its elaboration.

In the years of relative political freedom between 1941 and 1953, Talegani engaged in public activity on a scale far beyond what was customary for the `ulama’ In 1946 he accompanied Iranian troops reoccupying Azerbaijan, in 1947 he gave radio talks in which he analyzed social issues in light of religion, and in 1948 he became prayer leader at the Hidayat Mosque in central Tehran. After the founding of the National Front in 1949, this mosque became a focal point for religiously oriented Mossadeghists, who attended meetings organized by Talegani. An early supporter of the nationalist prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, Talegani was a candidate in the parliamentary elections Of 1952, but the voting in his northern constituency was canceled. After his fellow clerical activist Abol-Qasem Kashani broke with Mossadegh, Talegani remained loyal to the latter and became active in the National Resistance Movement after the coup Of 1953. In 1961 he cofounded the Liberation Movement of Iran (LMI) with Mehdi Bazargan, and he was arrested in 1963.

During the shah’s dictatorship, Talegani spent many years in prison or internal exile and was freed only in late 1978. Shortly thereafter he led the gigantic antiregime demonstrations of 1o and 11 December in Tehran that heralded the end of the shah’s regime. A charismatic and popular leader in his own right, Talegani at no point challenged Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose position in the clerical hierarchy was far above his own. Talegani did not rejoin the LMI in 1978, so as to be able to work for the unity of all revolutionary forces. Having been elected to the Assembly of Experts from Tehran with the highest number of votes, he died on 9 September 1979 before the final version of the constitution was passed.

As an ideologue, Taleqani’s heritage is claimed by groups as disparate as leaders of the Islamic republic, its radical opponents in the Mujahidin-i Khalq, and the liberal Islamists of the LMI. The pervasiveness of his influence makes him one of the key figures in the Islamic Revolution. In 1955 Talegani edited and published the book Tanbih al-millah wa-tanzih al-ummah. Written in 1905 on the basis of ShIN doctrine by Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Nd’ini (d. 1936) to defend constitutional government against the supporters of both royal and clerical rule after the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909, it acquired new significance for the religiously oriented sectors of the opposition against the shah.

In the early 1960s agrarian reform became a major issue in Iranian politics with the shah’s land-reform program. As a populist, Taleqani did not share many of his fellow clerics’ outright opposition to land reform, but he could not support the regime’s self-serving handling of the matter. To solve this problem, he concentrated on the question of ownership and concluded that unlike socialism, Islam accepted the principle of private ownership of land-but unlike capitalism, this acceptance was not absolute and was contingent on the owners using the land productively.

Between 1963 and 1978 Taleqani worked on a Qur’dnic commentary, which he called “A Ray from the Qur’dn.” It differed from traditional exegetical works in that it adopted a simple language accessible to the laity. From the Qur’dn, he deduced an evolutionary view of history in which societies move from a bad to a better condition and advocated “free will” as opposed to “predestination.” From these premises Taleqani concluded that Muslims had to take their destiny into their own hands and strive against their internal and external enemies to improve their condition and achieve justice. By attempting to show the relevance of the Qur’dn to the problems faced by Iranians, he invented an ideological discourse whose lingering attractiveness is testified to by the variety of groups that claim his legacy. This legacy, however, is viewed with skepticism by the more traditional Wamd’, who criticize his reductionist reading of the Qurdn.

[See also Iranian Revolution of 1979; Liberation Movement of Iran; and the biographies of Bazargan, Ka-shani, Khomeini, and Nj’ini]


Chehabi, H. E. Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini. Ithaca, N.Y., and London, 1990. Contains biographical material and an analysis of Taleqani’s socioeconomic writings.

Dabashi, Hamid. “Taliqani’s Qur’anic Exegesis: Elements of a Revolutionary Discourse.” In Modern Capitalism and Islamic Ideology in Iran, edited by Cyrus Bina and Hamid Zanganeh, pp. 51-81. London, 1992. Excellent discussion and critique of the methodology and content of Taleqani’s interpretation of the Qur’an.

Dabashi, Hamid. Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. New York, 1993. See chapter 4 for an exhaustive treatment of Taleqani’s thought.

Taleqani, Seyyed Mahmood (Taleqani, Mahmud). Islam and Ownership. Translated by Ahmad Jabari and Farhang Rajaee. Lexington, Ky., 1983. Final version of Taleqani’s thought on the forms of ownership according to Islam, published in Persian in 1965.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/taleqani-mahmud/

  • writerPosted On: July 8, 2018
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