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Ahmad Kasravi (Oil Painting on Canvas by Shapour Suren-Pahlav)
|Birth name||Ahmad Kasravī-ye Tabrīzī|
29 September 1890|
|Died||March 11, 1946
|Field||Ancient Languages, history, Politics, religion, and Philosophy.|
|Works||The Constitutional History of Iran; The 18 Year History of Azarbaijan; The Forgotten Kings (all in Persian)|
Born in Hokmabad (Hohmavar), Tabriz, Iran, Kasravi was an Iranian Azeri. Initially, Kasravi enrolled in a seminary. Later, he joined the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. He experienced a sort of conversion to Western learning when he learned that the comet of 1910 had been identified as a reappearance of Halley's comet. He abandoned his clerical training after this event and enrolled in the American Memorial School of Tabriz. Thenceforward he became, in Roy Mottahedeh's words, "a true anti-cleric."
Ahmad Kasravi came from a traditional clerical family. While still a seminary student in Tabriz, his home town, he came into contact with militants of the constitutionalist movement. The 1905 constitutionalist movement in Iran had driven a wedge between the cleric. Some rallied to its support and legitimized it while others argued that an Islamic form of government can only be based on the Shari'a. The clerical opponents of the movement accused its proponents of seeking to impose the will of the people over that of God. From the early age of sixteen, Kasravi became a pro-constitutionalist.
Kasravi's experience with every day private and social conduct of Muslims confronted him with a major epistemological problem. He witnessed certain acts and practices prevalent among the Shi'a for which he could not find sources or evidence in Islamic jurisprudence that he considered sound, and which he could not rationally explain. He also observed that those same Muslims refrained from certain acts which he believed were incumbent upon any pious believer. He identified a rupture between what he considered as the essence of the faith, the observation of which would have secured the welfare of the believers, and the outward signs or the form of the faith, which he believed to have developed into a superstitious series of futile rites and rituals. Cut off from worldly affairs, which according to Kasravi were the concern of religion, the Shi'a were, he concluded, still grappling with the problems and circumstances of 1,300 years ago. Shi'i Muslims, he observed were neither concerned with the national integrity and prosperity of their country, nor with colonialism and the reasons for the subjugation of the Eastern countries to European powers.
In Kasravi's mind, pursuing the essence of the faith resulted in social benefit. The deep preoccupation of the Shi'a with religious formalities, however, deprived them of the means to improve their socioeconomic condition. He maintained that excess zeal in practising what he considered to be 'impurities', which had crept into the faith, was the cause of the people's state of deprivation and underdevelopment. According to Kasravi, Islam was the guiding torch of the people in the pursuit of welfare, yet at the hands of the Shi'a it had become the source of their deception and misfortune.
Although Kasravi had written an important book called Shari'at Ahmadi on the osul and foru' of Islam and Shi'ism, he gradually began to question not only the role and legitimacy of the clergy, but even the basis of Shi'ism. He distinguished two different types of Islam: the Islam of the pious Prophet and the Islam of all the various sects that had emerged from the spread of the religion. According to Kasravi, the two were opposed to one another. Existing Islam was an institution run by the clerics, beneficial to no one and the source of great misfortune. The object of religion, he argued, was to secure the welfare of the people by finding solutions to their daily problems such as poverty, unemployment, and ill health. These he believed, were the acts which would please God.
According to Kasravi, the clergy did not perform their expected role. Instead of functioning as the enlightened shepherd who would lead his flock to spiritual and material felicity, they misled the people, perpetrated ignorance, deprivation and superstition. Kasravi reproached the clergy on several counts. He derided their role in deepening the animosity between Shi'i and Sunni Muslims. He attacked the custom of building shrines for the Imams and characterized their worship as idolatry. He accused the clergy of deceiving the people by encouraging them to go on pilgrimages as a means of attaining salvation or as a guarantee for the realization of a miracle. Kasravi argued that a reward could be expected only for a useful act. The lavish expenditure on pilgrimage, he maintained, was best spent on feeding and clothing the hungry and the poor. He mocked the concept of mediation (shafa'at), according to which on Judgment Day the Imams would request the salvation of a sinner from God and obtain it if only he were to mourn the Imams, visit their shrines and petition them with prayers (tavasol). Kasravi revolted against what he called the cult of personality of Shi'i Imams which had led to the Shi'i custom of 'people worshipping'. Thus Kasravi claimed that the faith had to be cleansed from all its impurities and called for a return to its original essence. Many of Kasravi's above-mentioned criticisms of Shi'i rituals and practices as well as his view on the role of the traditional clergy, later found its echo in modernist Islamic circles and especially in the works of Ali Shariati.
Kasravi, who at first seemed to be a reformer of Shi'ism, later hardened his position and became anti-Shi'i. In his book Shi'igari, 'The practice of Shi'ism', he bases his refutations of Shi'i beliefs on the Qur'an, the practice of the Prophet and Imam Ali. Throughout the book he remains highly respectful and reverential towards Imam Ali, Imam Hossein and their original followers. According to Kasravi, two factors were instrumental in institutionalizing the deviations and aberrations of the Shi'i faith: Imam Ja'far Sadeq, the sixth Shi'i Imam and the founder of Shi'i feqh (jurisprudence) and the Safavid dynasty. Whereas Imam Hossein revolted against Mo'awiya to regain his right to caliphate, Kasravi argues that Imam Ja'far Sadeq claimed himself to be the rightful and God-ordained imam, yet instead of struggling for his right, he chose the safety of his home. Proclaiming power without wishing to challenge the existing political power necessarily bred certain problems. According to Kasravi, the Shi'i practice of dissimulation of one's real beliefs (taqiyeh) when survival is at stake, was in fact a means of deception which legitimized falsehood. The safavid rulers who wished to prove their Shi'i zeal went to extremes to uphold established Shi'i rituals and rites. With the active collaboration of the clergy, they accentuated those aspects which Kasravi believed to be impurities. They institutionalized the custom of insulting Abu Bakr, Omar, and Osman, thereby deepening the hatred between Shi'a and Sunnis. It was also during their time that Islam became synonymous with observing certain formal rituals such as attending and weeping at mourning sessions (rowzeh-khani), going on pilgrimages and petitioning the imams with prayers. Later, Shari'ati too identified Safavid Shi'ism as a 'polytheistic' religion. Kasravi's attack on the practices of certain Islamic jurists (faqaha) and the Safavids, under whose rule Shi'ism became Iran's official religion and the Shi'i clergy obtained power and prestige, was a challenge to the dominant perception of Islamic practices. Kasravi, however, was very careful not to question or negate any of the three fundamental basis for Islam, namely monotheism, prophethood and resurrection.
From the Shi'i community's point of view, Kasravi crossed the Rubicon when he attacked the authenticity of certain essential pillars of Twelver Shi'i thought and insulted certain highly revered Shi'i infallibles. He rejected the commonly held belief that the first three caliphs had usurped the position of Imam Ali. He challenged the concept of imamate, or the right of Imam Ali and his male lineage to the religious and temporal leadership of the Islamic community. Kasravi rejected the infallibility of the Twelve Imams, ridiculed the existence of the Twelfth Imam and consequently the central Shi'i notion of his occultation and his promised return on earth. In his writings, Kasravi demeaned several of the imams and Fatemeh, the daughter of the Prophet and Ali's wife. Kasravi repudiated the axiomatic theoretical basis of Shi'ism. His criticism was no longer directed at one or another member of the clergy, certain practices or rituals, but the content, object and raison d'etre of the Shi'i faith. His discourse had become anti-Shi'a. Having had a traditional clerical education, Kasravi must have anticipated the traditional response of the clerical community to his discourse.
Kasravi's criticism of the mechanical, superstitious, ahistorical and dogmatic nature of Shi'ism, as it was practised in his day, left an undeniable mark on the Muslims who sought to modernize their religion. Kasravi's tumultuous life and his fate also indicated the extent and limitations of an open attack on certain rituals and practices, the clergy, and ultimately certain fundamentals of the faith.
The controversy around Kasavi's arguments and his assassination could not have escaped the thirteen-year-old, inquisitive Ali Shari'ati. It could be justifiably argued that both Mohammad Taqi (Ali Shariati's father) and Ali Shari'ati were sensitive to and influenced by Kasravi's criticisms and denunciation of Shi'i excesses and the clerical institution. During his stay in Paris, Ali Shari'ati sent home a list of books he needed in preparation for a lecture on 'New Islamic Currents in Iran'. Among the works requested were those of Bazargan, Motahhari, Tabataba'i, Sa'idi, Shari'at-e Sanglaji, and Kasravi. On this list, only Kasravi's name was underlined.
It was in Tbilisi where he first became acquainted with a wide spectrum of political ideas and movements, and he soon was employed by the government of Iran in various cultural posts.
A prolific writer, Kasravi was very critical of both the Shi'a clergy and of the policies of the central government. His outspoken ways would lead him to have many supporters and critics starting from the Reza Shah period. While Abdolhossein Teymourtash was a strong supporter of his works, Mohammad Ali Foroughi is said to have taken strong exception to his literary theories and banned him from contributing to the Farhangestan or to continue publishing. Moreover, he had liberal views on religion, was a strong supporter of democracy, and expressed them in satirical pamphlets like What Is the Religion of the Hajis with Warehouses? that infuriated many readers. His views earned him many powerful enemies such as Ayatollah Khomeini.
His detailed account of the Constitutional Revolution still stands out as one of the most important sources on the events, even though Kasravi was a teenager at the time of the revolution and cannot claim the full authority of a contemporary witness that his writing at times suggests.
Kasravi is known for his solid and controversial research work on the ancient Azari language. He showed that the ancient Azari language was an offshoot of Pahlavi language. Due to this discovery, he was granted membership of the London Royal Asiatic Society and American Academy.
Arguing that the ancient Azari language had been closely related to Persian language and the influx of Turkic words began only with the Seljuq invasion, Ahmad Kasravi believed that the true national language of Iranian Azerbaijan was Persian and therefore advocated the linguistic assimilation of Persian in Azarbaijan. In 1927-8 Ahmad Kasravi led the way in establishing the ancestry of the Safavids dynasty with the publication of three influential articles, and disputed the validity of the 'official' Safavid family tree contained in the Safvat al-Safa, and argued convincingly that the ancestors of Shaykh Safi al-Din, who founded the Safavid Order (tariqa), were indigenous inhabitants of Iran. Today, the consensus among Safavid historians is that the Safavid family hailed from Persian Kurdistan.
On March 11, 1946, while being tried on charges of "slander against Islam," Kasravi and one of his assistants named Seyyed MohammadTaghi Haddadpour, were knifed and killed in open court in Tehran by followers of Navvab Safavi, a Shi'a extremist cleric who had founded a terrorist organization called the Fadayan-e Islam (literally Devotees of Islam). The same group had failed in assassinating Kasravi earlier in April 1945 in Tehran. Ayatollah Borujerdi and Ayatollah Sadr[who?] issued fatwas for killing Ahmad Kasravi.
Some of his more famous books are:
- The 18 Year History of Azarbaijan (Persian: تاریخ هجدهسالهٔ آذربایجان)
- The Constitutional History of Iran (Persian: تاریخ مشروطهٔ ایران)
- The Forgotten Kings (Persian: شهرياران گمنام)
- The 500 Year History of Khuzestan (Persian: تاریخ پانصد سالهٔ خوزستان)
- A Brief History of The Lion and Sun (Persian: تاریخچهٔ شیر وخورشید)
- Sheikh Safi and His Progeny (Persian: شیخ صفی و تبارش)
- Azari or the Ancient Language of Azerbaijan (Persian: آذری یا زبان باستان آذربایجان)
- varjavand bonyad (Persian: ورجاوند بنیاد)
- Shi'aism (Persian: شيعيگرى)
- Bahaism (Persian: بهاييگرى)
- Sufism (Persian: صوفيگرى)
Books by Ahmad Kasravi 
- Ahmad Kasravi, Tārikh-e Mashruteh-ye Iran (تاریخ مشروطهٔ ایران) (History of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution), in Persian, 951 p. (Negāh Publications, Tehran, 2003), ISBN 964-351-138-3. Note: This book is also available in two volumes, published by Amir Kabir Publications in 1984. Amir Kabir's 1961 edition is in one volume, 934 pages.
- Ahmad Kasravi, History of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution: Tārikh-e Mashrute-ye Iran, Volume I, translated into English by Evan Siegel, 347 p. (Mazda Publications, Costa Mesa, California, 2006). ISBN 1-56859-197-7
See also 
- V. Minorsky. Mongol Place-Names in Mukri Kurdistan (Mongolica, 4), Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 58-81 (1957), p. 66. JSTOR
- Iran and Its Place Among Nations, Alidad Mafinezam, Aria Mehrabi, 2008, p.57
- احمد کسروی؛ پژوهشگری،سرکشی و خرده نگری Khosro Naghed
- Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and a Borderland in Transition Azerbaijan, 122-289 p. (Columbia University Press, 1995). ISBN 0-231-07068-3
- IICHS موسسه مطالعات تاريخ معاصر ايران
- Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, 416 p. (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1985), Ch. 3. ISBN 0-671-55197-3
- Ali Rahnema, An Islamic Utopian' 7-10p. (I.B Tauris Publishers, New York, 2000), The Political and Religious Setting. ISBN 978-1-86064-552-5
- Website dedicated to Ahmad Kasravi: Ahmad Kasravi 1891 - 1946
- Ahmad Kasravi (BBC Persian)
- Ahmad Kasravi biography
- Why is Safavid history important
- Criticism at Kasravi by Khosro Naghed
- Books from Ahmad Kasravi in Kavehsara.com