 This is an interesting and important question and requires an exact and un-slogan answer. Sheikh was not against liberty in the meaning of “freedom from the government’s tyranny and oppression” and also “the right of constructive criticism regarding authorities and statement ...
Sheikh Fazl-Allah Nouri and Iran Constitutional Revolution; Interview with Hujjat-al-Islam Ali Abulhassani (Monzer)
□ Dear Mr. Monzer, you have investigated the life, thoughts and campaigns of Ayatollah Haj Sheikh Fazl-Allah Nouri for many years. Was Haj Sheikh Fazl-Allah Nouri, as many historians and analysts of constitution claim, against liberty or did he only oppose to some types and kinds of that? And basically how did he define and state liberty?
This is an interesting and important question and requires an exact and un-slogan answer. Sheikh was not against liberty in the meaning of “freedom from the government’s tyranny and oppression” and also “the right of constructive criticism regarding authorities and statement of personal and social interests and expediencies” but it must be noted that his active participation in the Tobacco Movement and House of Justice Movement was not other than achieving this goal. The Sheikh’s life, especially its last brilliant chapter, continence from seeking asylum in foreign embassies to save life, and welcoming death for his belief when the Shah and courtiers had fled to the Russian embassy; clearly shows that he was a fundamentalist and idealist man and his opposition against constitution was not due to matters like conspiracy with tyrants or alliance with the northern neighbor.
The Sheikh’s signature under Tehran cleric’s letter (during the beginning of the constitutional justice movement) from Qom to Mozafar-al-Din Shah is a witness to this claim. In this letter, which included complaint and grievance of the clerics about the killing and oppression of people by the chancellor (Ayn-al-Doleh), they have severely criticized the chancellor’s effort in erroneous presentation of the cleric’s honest petition regarding justice seeking and preservation of Islamic countries before the Shah and blocking the paths of petitioning and justice seeking. The undersigned of this letter rationale’s is naturally to state the realities by people especially the intellectuals and the permit to criticize them by political and social tyrannies and the Sheikh is one of the undersigned of this letter. Such a person can strictly not be against liberty (in the meaning of the right of constructive criticism) and block the path of petition and justice seeking for people who, he is one of them and even their leader.
In his interview with Tabatabaei and Behbahani in Abdul-Azim Shrine, where he criticizes the context of the constitutional press and their unmethodical freedom, Sheikh makes an exception in this regard saying:
“This freedom presumed by these people [= fanatic constitutionalists] is blasphemy and blasphemy. I personally will prove and convince you by the verses from the Quran that freedom in Islam is blasphemy. But only in their freedom, there is something that if the public’s interest lies in, they can say it and that’s it. But they should not be so free as to insult others; by public’s interest we mean wealth and advancement towards development and finding treasures and removing the many barriers and developments in the government and the nation. Do they say that people who have this freedom are free to insult respectable people?! Do they say that they can swear and write it too?! Apart from all this, is freedom of tongue and pen for the press to say and write anything they want about the prophet and his family?”
No doubt the Sheikh thought his reformist views relatively granted for a time and finally ended his sanctuary. When the national parliament answered his and his comrades’ question regarding the meaning of liberty and its limits as: “… the meaning of freedom, freedom in legal rights and freedom in stating the public’s interest so that the people of this country are not oppressed and tyrannized as in the past and are able to ask for and gain the rights determined for them by God, we don’t mean the freedom of lords of wasted religions and freedom in publication of religious prohibitions so that anyone can say and act what they wish.” It is clear that if the Sheikh was against freedom in any form and even opposed rational and legal liberties he would not have been satisfied with this answer and sign it.
He was against offending the scholars and divine commandments which was abundant in those days’ newspapers who claimed freedom. Mullah Nasr-al-Din newspaper which had many followers among the constitutionalists, wittingly and ridiculing writes: “most of Iran parliament representatives are from the mullahs1 because knowledge is not a condition for representatives in the law.” Another example is Sour Esrafil newspaper which, as said by Abdullah Mostofi, was taken by the constitutionalists like leaves of gold. This newspaper published an article in its fourth issue (pp.6-7) which actually was sharp indictment against all great philosophers and theologians of the country: “our words and wisdom is a ridiculous potion of reflections of Indian addicts, thoughts of Greek idolaters, illusions of Chaldea priests and imaginations of the Jewish Wahhabis… during one thousand and three hundred years, our scholars did not have the chance to separate the Islamic philosophy from this nonsense and write and publish a brief pamphlet regarding their own true way in the language of the public because they were occupied with the lust for chairmanship, enjoyment of the sound of their special shoes and greed of getting closer to the king…”!
Baqer Momeni writes that it wasn’t only Sheikh Fazl-Allah Nouri who opposed the managers of Sour Esrafil newspaper; the clerics who were in constitution also disliked him for his words about religion and clergies. Another example was Tehran’s Habl-al-Matin newspaper who wrote a harsh and offensive article against Islam and clergies on the day Sheikh Fazl-Allah was hanged (July 31st 1909) which was followed by the severe protest of Tehran and Najaf’s constitutional scholars. Such that despite dominance of the pro-western and radical constitutionalists over the capital he was sent to prison with a criminal court order and his newspaper was closed for ever. It was against these newspapers that Sheikh Fazl-Allah considered his sanctuary in Abdul-Azim Shrine “refinement of the press and newspapers from atheism and offense towards religion and the religious people”.
It is interesting to know that despite accusation of “anti-liberty” against the Sheikh from most of constitutionalists, a figure like Allameh Mirza Mohammad Khan Qazvini – founder of scientific method of text correction in contemporary Iran – who was close to Sheikh Fazl-Allah narrated stories about “the expanse of Sheikh’s disposition and freedom and liberality and cleverness and his great features” for his friends in Europe and Dr. Qasem Qani, one of the intellectuals of the Pahlavi period and one of Qazvini’s companions has asserted this fact in a letter to one of his friends.
□ What system was the late Sheikh wish to establish by rejecting the western constitutional system? Please explain the characteristics and coordinates of his desired system.
Sheikh rejected absolute western constitution and parliamentarism because of its lack of harmony with Islamic laws but this did never mean he accepted autocracy. The late Dr. Mohammad Ismael Rezvani, an aware and just researcher of constitution, writes: “sheikh, as many presume, was not against constitution [=restriction of monarchy]… he says: the infectious and current constitution in the west with its specific characteristics is not worthy of enforcement in Iran. The Iranians must establish a constitution according to their national and religious traditions and… his slogan was: و علیکم بالمشروطی الاسلامی2. He also declares Sheikh as the “third force” in the struggle between constitution and autocracy who neither “defended autocracy” nor was he “for the specific European democracy”.
Like a religious and traditional canonist, the Sheikh did not separate “religion” from “politics” and searched for his desired political system in the light of revelation’s rule and enforcement of Islam’s eternal laws.
In his view, it is the politics which must become completely religious and not vice versa. Secondly, sheikh’s political system has two “negating” and “demanding” aspects, the negating aspect of which is made up of two main branches:1- “independence” meaning freedom from foreign autocracy (especially that of the west) in all aspects of intellectual, political, social and etc. (of course this must not be mistaken with “wise and tactful” dealing and exchange between cultures and civilizations), 2- “justice” through legal control of the government  by a parliament consisting of normal representatives of guilds and classes of society.
The “demanding” aspect of his desired political systemwas “ruling of Islam” which means exact and unbiased enforcement of Islamic laws in all ranks.
The Sheikh said: “our divine law is not specific to worship but bears all political matters more completely and faithfully without even the smallest bit of deficiency. With all his enmity towards the Sheikh, Kasravi has an interesting confession: “Haji Sheikh Fazl-Allah was enticed by “religion” and yearned for its prevalence… he had come with much hope and desire and he wanted to practice the laws of religion and convince the parliament of those rules. Overall he tried to establish a religious government. Does anyone expect anything other than this from a canonist and rather a pious God-fearing human being?
□ A criticism of the Sheikh’s religious constitution thesis made by some clerics was that we cannot legitimate and authorize constitution and the monarchy which are unlawful. What was Sheikh’s answer to this criticism?
The adverb “religious” to describe “constitution” was in fact stating the nature of constitution and its desired type and kind. As the adverb “Islamic” is used in compound labels like “Islamic revolution” and “Islamic republic” follows the same philosophy and concept: “social revolutions” and “republic systems” can take various types and forms, for example Marxist revolution or secular republic, the adverb “Islamic” in “Islamic republic” can be n avoidance adverb. In meaning, for republic as a general and natural label, we consider different alternatives and types one of which can be “Islamic”. In this way the adverb Islamic in “Islamic republic” is an avoidance adverb. Meaning that by using the slogan “Islamic republic” we deny all kinds of republics (secular, liberal…) and only accept one kind with the content and direction of Islamic as the best regime.
Beside from being accepted out of necessity and as an “emergency solution” by the Sheikh, “Religious constitution” never meant legalizing absolute western parliamentarism or the monarchy, but in essence, it was a tactful plan to control that imported new regime restrained by the west. So the reason that during constitution, not even a formal and ceremonial speech towards Sheikh’s suggestion, “the second amendment principle of the constitution law” (sincere supervision of leading scholars on the legislation), was expressed on the part of governing bodies and conversely the defiant clerics, from Modarres to Imam Khomeini (until before the start of the Islamic Revolution) insisted on its execution, was that with the enforcement of this article of the law, the country’s laws would not exceed Islamic framework (which is the religion for most of our people) and there would naturally be no place left for authoritarianism and westernization.
□ Thank you for your time.
I thank you too and wish you success.
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