The Iranian Constitutional Revolution and the Clerical Leadership of Khurasani
by Mateo Mohammad Farzaneh
Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2015. 329 pp. $49.95.
Reviewed by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
For Iranians, the 1905-11 constitutional revolution was transformational. Liberals, constitutionalists, nationalists, reformers, tribesmen, and even some clergy worked together to force the shah to accept a constitution. They then defended it against the forces of counter-constitutional revolution led by the next shah with Russian backing.
While much has been previously written about the constitutional revolution since the account of Edward Granville Browne, Farzaneh, a professor at Northeastern Illinois University, sheds new light on the role of Mohammed Kazem Khurasani, perhaps the most prominent ayatollah of the early twentieth century. At a time when many Persian constitutionalists looked to Europe for a model, Ayatollah Khurasani used Shiite doctrine to provide the religious rationale for a constitution and parliament. Farzaneh provides the first major study of these arguments.
The first part of the book is largely an abridged history. However, for scholars of Iran and religion, the second part is essential. The author provides a deep examination of Khurasani's life, works, and philosophy. Farzaneh makes clear that whereas Sunnism prioritizes consensus to such a degree that many clerics and scholars argue that key theological arguments were settled once and for all a millennium ago, Shiism has been more vibrant with a constant evolution of exegesis.
Farzeneh's exploration of the theological debates in which Khurasani engaged with competitors and detractors may also be critical to understanding the future possibilities of Islam. Parallel discussions of the interplay between Islam and democracy today can help illuminate a path to modernity, simultaneously showing one and all just how complicated Shiite religious figures can be.
 The Persian Revolution of 1905-1906 (Washington, D.C.: Mage Publishers, 1995).
Related Topics: Iran | Michael Rubin | Spring 2016 MEQ
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