Department of History, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago
Prospects of Constitutionalism in Iran and the Role of Shi’ite Clerics
Days before the Iranian parliament dissolved on 24 December 1911, Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani (1839-1911) died suddenly from apparently natural causes. Since 1902 Khurasani had been an active supporter of reform in Iranian politics and society and eventually became a key figure in the success of mashrutiyyat. However, his death ended an era in which rational Shi’ism and pragmatic leadership exercised by the office of Source of Emulation effectively supported modern and progressive political movements. Khurasani’s support of a constitutional form of government, which he based on his usuli methodology in Islamic jurisprudence, provided him with unfettered freedom to make a modern concept born in Europe acceptable to other ulama and consequently the public. In this paper, I argue that the inclusion in the discussion of Khurasani’s successful merging of Islamic doctrines with viewing sociopolitical issues from a rational perspective — all the while not violating Islam’s major tenets, values, and doctrines — can benefit the future of constitutionalism in Iran. To do otherwise, in a rather conservative and traditional society such as Iran, would be to ignore a sizeable population that still depends on clerical religious/spiritual social leadership to help them make effective decisions in their polity. In light of a long Islamic and Shiite tradition, it would be a major challenge to imagine the future of constitutionalism in Iran and of the supremacy of the rule of law without the participation of the clerical establishment.
Mateo M. Farzaneh is an assistant professor of the Islamic world and modern Middle Eastern history at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. He specializes in the history of Shi’ite clerics and their role in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1906-11). Currently he is completing a manuscript on the role of Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani in the success of the Constitutional Revolution. He has published on the usage of Shi’ite ideology during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and the Iranian-Iraqi relations in the 1950s and 60s.