Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Iran’s First Constitution: Achievements and Drawbacks
In reducing monarchical powers, the Iranian Constitutional Laws of 1906–1907 went far beyond the Belgian, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Constitutions, as well as those of Germany, Japan, and Russia. The 1907 law also granted new rights to recognized religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians (while expressly barring Babis and Baha’is), by stating that all (male) citizens were equal before the state law. Clerical authority was restricted in a number of ways. However, the new constitution also recognized the Twelver branch of Shi’i Islam as the official religion of the country and gave a council of clerics substantial rights and privileges that directly violated the earlier more liberal spirit of the Constitution. National identity was subsumed under the Shi’i Ithna ‘Ashari religious identity. The ulama gained veto power over the Parliament and retained control of the religious courts under Article 2. Some of the civil liberties granted in 1906, such as freedom of press or association, were curtailed by the 1907 laws. Other civil liberties that were introduced in the 1907 law were restricted by religious qualifications. In the 1930s, when Reza Shah Pahlavi stacked the Parliament with his cronies and ignored the Constitution, support for article 2 reemerged. Clerics realized that Article 2 provided them with a convenient justification for challenging his rule. The same thing would repeat itself in the 1960s and 1970s during the rule of Muhammad Reza Shah. In place of Pahlavi authoritarianism, clerics called for reinstating the Constitution. In fact a closer look at their pronouncements suggests that above all they were interested in reinstating Article 2 and provisions that increased the authority of the ulama.
Janet Afary holds the Mellichamp Chair in Global Religion and Modernity at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she is a Professor of Religious Studies and Feminist Studies. She is a native of Iran and a historian of modern Iran. She has an MA in Linguistics from Tehran University and a PhD in History and Near East Studies from the University of Michigan, where her dissertation received the Distinguished Rackham Dissertation Award. Previously she taught at the Department of History and the Program in Women’s Studies at Purdue University, where she was appointed a University Faculty Scholar. Her books include: Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (Cambridge University Press, 2009, winner of the British Society for Middle East Studies Annual Book Prize); The Iranian Constitutional Revolution: Grassroots Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origins of Feminism (Columbia University Press, 1996, winner of Dehkhoda Institute Book Award; and (with Kevin B. Anderson) Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism (University of Chicago Press, 2005, winner of the Latifeh Yarshater Book Award for Iranian Women’s Studies).