As a wave of sexual harassment allegations flood the media, and while as Muslim women, many of us have had to suffer under the authoritarian rule of patriarchy in our birth countries such as Iran and Afghanistan, it is refreshing to read the enlightened words of the 13th century poet, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, a Muslim man and a Sufi mystic.
"If outwardly you dominate your wife,
inwardly you are dominated,
seeking her love.
The Prophet said, "Woman
prevails over the wise man,
while the raw and ignorant prevails over her."
Those men who lack tenderness and affection
are animals, not men.
She is not that kind of beloved most imagine;
she is a ray of God.
She is nit just created,
she is creative."
Translated by Kabir Helminski & A. Rezwani
The Iranian constitutionalists were ecstatic about their victory. But while basking in their enthusiasm, they had taken the Shah’s pledges to respect the constitution at face value, and failed to understand that Britain who they believed was the natural ally of the people, had simply supported them to counteract Russian presence in Iran.
In fact, both Britain and Russia secretly saw the Iranian Constitutional Revolution as a disruptive force which threatened their imperial interests. Britain was also concerned about the military rise of Germany, while Russia had suffered a humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 and was struggling with political instability due to its own 1905 revolution.
The two powers called for a convention to eliminate the Iranian zones of conflict. Though the Anglo-Russian Agreement claimed to recognize Iran’s independence, it divided it into three separate zones. Russia snatched up the north, while the British zone paralleled the Persian Gulf, all the way to the Indian empire on the east. The area in between was marked as neutral.
Iranians would soon learn that however predatory the two powers, they were even more dangerous when they put aside their differences. While the new monarch, Mohammad Ali Shah, was encouraged by the 1907 agreement to pursuit his goal of destroying the constitutional government, most Iranians were dismayed.
In September of the same year, an article in the press declared that the National Assembly should verify the accuracy of the agreement, to see whether it was true that “while we are living in our house others are arranging its disposal and making compacts and conventions with one another without even informing us of the matter.”
The Russians encouraged the Shah to repudiate the constitution. Going into hiding, the Shah cowardly relied on the Russian Cossack and their colonel, Liakhoff, who let loose a reign of terror in the capital. The Cossack occupied state offices, and dissidents were brutally killed and arrested.
News of the reign of terror reached the provinces, and a national resistance movement began. In Tabriz, the second largest city in Iran, the constitutionalists occupied the administrative headquarters and declared that they no longer recognized the Shah.
The Russians then dispatched Cossack troops to Tabriz. The forces surrounded the city. The siege was terrifyingly brutal with hunger and disease killing people every day and reducing many to eating grass to survive. Led by Sattar Khan, a man who had risen from obscurity, and his deputy Bagher Khan, the constitutionalists drove out loyalist forces of Tabriz. This victory greatly influenced other provinces of Iran in their fight for democracy.
But finally, after holding on for months, Tabriz fell. The Russian Cossack and their allies, stormed the city. Their victory was short lived for as soon as citizens returned to health, they resumed their fight. Their defiance grew into a national movement.
New armies rose under the leadership of the Bakhtiari tribe, who were resolute and tough warriors, and they began to march to Tehran. The mobilization of the tribes and nationalists set off alarm signals in London and St. Petersburg. The Russians warned the constitutionalists that unless they stop marching, the Russian army would step in. But the rebels shrugged off their warning.
In June 1909, the constitutionalist troops entered Tehran. The Cossack brigade fought back but when the Shah abdicated and fled to Russia, Liakhov surrendered.
The leaders of the constitutional armies met with the clergy and members of the parliament. They deposed Mohmmad Ali Shah and replaced him with his young son, Sultan Ahmed Shah.
The victory was celebrated. By now Iran had made remarkable strides toward democracy. Universal male suffrage had been proclaimed. Religious minorities were guaranteed seats in the parliament. Vigorous political parties emerged favoring women’s rights and public education.
But the vibrant democracy was still struggling. British and Russian occupiers ignored the laws. Signing the agreement to divide Iran between them, they intended to crush Iran’s parliament. Desperate to save their democracy, Iranians turned to America. After all, United States was an inspiration—a former British colony that had thrown off the chains of its oppressor.
They hired Morgan Shuster as Treasurer General, hoping that he could help force the Russians and British to submit to the parliament’s will. Shuster had an impressive background in organizing chaotic countries. He’d designed a tax system for the Philippines and had been director of the Cuban customs service. He had a reputation for being a hard worker and utterly incorruptible.
Shuster asked Parliament to raise a team dedicated to enforcing tax laws. The first trained units were sent to confiscate property from tax delinquents, mostly wealthy landowners, in the Russian sphere of influence. Russia reacted by sending troops to northern Iran, threatening to occupy Tehran if Parliament did not stop meddling. Britain did the same, reinforcing its garrisons in the south.
Parliament did not back down. Shuster would write later that the Iranian parliament, “more truly represented the best aspirations of the Persians than any other body that has ever existed in that country…. It was loyally supported by the great mass of the Persians and that alone was sufficient justification for its existence. The Russian and British governments, however, were constantly instructing their Ministers at Tehran to obtain this concession or block that one, failing utterly to recognize the days had passed in which the affairs, lives and interests of millions of people were entirely in the hands of an easily intimated… despot.”
In 1911, the two powers gave Tehran an ultimatum. Parliament must dismiss Shuster and promise not to engage foreign subjects again without first obtaining approval from Britain and Russia.
The threat was read amid deep silence in the grounds of the parliament building. Shuster later said that a hush fell upon the crowd. Deputies, old men and young, clergy, lawyers, merchants and princes, sat tense in their seats. Finally, one rose and said, “It may be the will of God that our liberty and our sovereignty shall be taken away from us, but let us not sign them away with our own hands.” Though they knew that the reaction from Britain and Russia would be harsh, every man cast his own die of fate, staking the safety of himself and his family, and hurled back into the great Bear of the North, the answer of a desperate people unwilling to sacrifice their national dignity.
By its defiance, the parliament sealed its fate. Russian troops occupied Tehran. They ordered the new Shah to dissolve the parliament and dismiss Shuster. Shuster would later say in his book, The Strangling of Persia, that as he was leaving Iran, a realization swept over him that “the hopes of a patient, long-suffering” Muslim people “of reclaiming their position in the world had been ruthlessly stamped out by the armies of a so-called civilized and Christian nation.”
Iran’s first experiment with democracy was over in 1911, but it left a vivid impression in the psyche of her nation. And perhaps the destiny of Iran would have been different had she not sat on top of an ocean of oil.
There is no doubt that our country's history shapes not only our national identity, but our individual psychology. The Iranian constitutional revolution of 1905 was one of the most important events in 20th century Iran, which to this day continues to inspire and haunt us; a movement that was extremely effective but was ultimately crushed by foreign powers and an incompetent monarchy. The events around the constitutional revolution fill many Iranians with a sense of helplessness and anger about the long pursuit of freedom, and failure to establish a democratic state to this day.
In 1905, Iran was desperate for her independence. For years, she has been caught between the claws of the Russian bear and the jaws of the British lion, fighting for her resources.
She stood in the way of Russian ambition to reach the Persian Gulf. The Ottomans in Turkey were recovering from their disastrous war with Russia, while Britain tightened its grip on Egypt. And France had swallowed up Algeria, Tunisia and was moving in on Morocco.
Iran had lost several wars against Russia and Britain, and had been forced to give up her Caucasus and Afghan territories. Russia and Britain had demanded harsh capitulations, opening the way for a dramatic influx of mass-manufactured goods. The volume of trade grew tenfold.
Since the early 1800s, the Qajar nobles had been profoundly traumatized by the discovery of Europe’s advancements. To fight back, the Qajar monarch, Naser ed-Din Shah, had introduced reforms. He had created a small Cossack brigade, the first railway, and had brought electricity to major cities. He also introduced the first state newspaper and a modern high school. New educational programs started creating a professional middle class, familiar with western ways. He’d also introduced the telegraph, which helped connect geographically diverse regions.
To pay for these reforms, he had needed financing, so he did the worst thing possible: He’d given economic privileges to foreign governments and concession hunters. Men like Bardon de Reuter, a British citizen, received control over Iranian roads, rivers, telegraphs, factories, and extraction of resources. The British Imperial Bank of Persia purchased monopoly to print banknotes. A Russian company won contracts to build highways. Another obtained a monopoly over the fishing industry in the Caspian.
But the foreign competition caused many local businesses to lose their livelihood. The crisis reached its tipping point in 1891. The Shah had sold yet another concession, this time to an Englishman named Major Talbot. In return for personal gifts to the Shah, Talbot acquired a fifty-year monopoly over the production, distribution and exportation of all tobacco.
The locals went on strike. The strike, thanks to the new telegraph system, spread like wildfire, sparking off dangerous mass demonstrations across the country. The Shah gave in and annulled the concession. But soon after he was assassinated by a follower of Jamal ed-din Asadabadi, a pan-Islamic propagandist.
The new monarch, Muzzafar ed-Din Shah, reversed his father’s policies. To finance his medical visits to Europe, he negotiated new loans with Britain and Russia. He wanted to keep his opposition quiet, so he permitted the formation of commercial and cultural associations. But this only encouraged his opposition to form political organizations. The organizations were filled with members of all social classes, from nobility to intelligentsia, bazaar merchants, craftsmen, tribal chiefs and ulama.
In the meantime, global events spiraled toward inflation. The price of sugar rose by 33%. Wheat 90%. Then the government raised tariffs on local merchants. And that triggered one intense public protest after another.
The protesters clashed with the Cossacks. Twenty-two people died and one hundred suffered serious injuries. The ulama compared the Qajars to the notorious Yazid, the Sunni leader who had martyred the Shia Imam Hussein, an emotional historical event for Iranians, and then they too went on strike.
The Shah finally signed a proclamation for the convening of a Constituent National Assembly. The constitution drafted in 1907 called for a parliamentary system of government. It contained a “bill of rights” which guaranteed each citizen equality before the law, protection of life, property, safeguards from arbitrary arrest, and freedom to publish newspapers and organize associations.
Another divided the government into three branches: legislative, judicial and executive. It created a legislative branch, which included a parliament called the Majlis, and a Senate, with goals to achieve independence from British and Russian imperialism, end royal corruption, giving the elected legislature final approval over all loans, concessions and budget. Ultimately, it diverted power from the Shah, giving it instead to the parliament.
The Shah signed the constitution, agreeing that from then on he was under the rule of the law. People were ecstatic. The constitutional revolution was a huge victory. Not only was it the first revolution in the region that demanded the creation of a constitution, it also proved that change could occur with peaceful protests.
But the celebration was short lived, because Britain and Russia had signed the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907, secretly dividing Iran into two spheres of influence. This created another period of struggle, as the British supported the Shah in his attempt to eliminate the new parliament.
Next --> "Iran's Constitutional Revolution - Part 2"
Do you know that during the era of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes), the role of falsafeh (philosophy) in the Islamic civilization, performed a central role in the formulation of sciences?
"The science of logic, the problem of the classification of the sciences, the methodology of the sciences and their interaction with the rest of the Islamic culture were all deeply concerned with and of concern to falsafah and its elaboration in Islam. Moreover, during this early period most of the great scientists were also philosophers and quite often mystics." 
The development of Islamic science in the early period is related to that of the Eastern Peripatetic School of Philosophy founded by Ibn Sina and Farabi. The meaning of “hakim” which denotes at once a physician, scientist and philosopher is the best proof of this connection." 
 Seyyed Hossein Nasr. “Islamic Philosophy from its Origin to Present.” State University of NY Press. 2006.
If the word jihad frightens you, you’re not alone. The term has been abused for years by the lunatic fringe of Islam, shouting “Allah-o Akbar” while killing innocent people, and Western media and opinion leaders who give these violent groups legitimacy by referring to them as “jihadists.” The term “jihad” implies that all Muslims—regardless of religiosity, background or nationality—are united in the ludicrous belief that it is their duty to bring other nations under their subjugation whenever possible.
With the abundance of data at the age of the internet, you’d think we’d do a better job understanding the “other” and gaining knowledge about the things we fear the most. However, sadly even Muslims are confused by their own religion, often following the extremist narrative or repeating the very words they are fed by the Western media and orientalists.
Orientalism, a term used by historians and scholars for the depiction of aspects of life in Middle East and Asian cultures, has been criticized for its exaggeration of differences and the application of cliched analytical models for perceiving the Eastern world. As Nancy Demerdash, Professor of History of Art and Architecture at the University of DePaul says, the designation of the term “orient” reflects “a Western European view of the “East” and not necessarily the views of the inhabitants of those areas.” In his revolutionary book, Orientalism, Edward W. Said, noted that orientalism is a “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Muslims and their culture which derives from Western images of what is Oriental (cultural representations) that reduce the Orient to the fictional characteristic of the “Oriental,” dominating the discourse of the Western people with and about non-Western people.” 
Jihad is one of these abused concepts that has been exaggerated to fit the Western narrative on Muslims. No one can dispute the violent and psychopath tendencies of the Islamic radicals who have used and continue to use the term as an excuse to create havoc and destroy lives—and let’s not forget that most of their victims are in fact secular and progressive Muslims—but the Western sensationalized narrative does nothing if not contribute to their cause by giving them the legitimacy they do not deserve and so desperately crave.
As Asma Asarduddin, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University says, “Orientalist scholars and Muslim militants both claim that the Quran comments Muslims to wage offensive warfare, which they call “jihad”—against non-Muslims until Islam occupies the whole world…. Some Western scholars and pundits argue that the concept of internal, nonviolent jihad is recent and deliberately misleading interpretation lacking a basis in the Quran. Rice University Professor David Cook, a prominent advocate of this perspective, goes so far as to insist that only Muslim and non-Muslim apologists in the West emphasize the notion of internal or spiritual jihad in order “to present Islam in the most innocuous manner possible.”” 
Never mind that the actual term for war in the Quran is qital and not jihad as in verse 2:190, “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you but be not aggressive. Surely, God does not love the aggressors.” The term qital has been used in over forty places in the Quran. The word jihad which means to strive, struggle or persevere is mentioned in relation to war in eight verses, while the other twenty-one verses refer to it as peaceful struggle. 
You might ask, so what? Replacing the word, doesn’t make the fact that the Quran mentions the act of war any better. But if we are going to demonize an entire “other” group, shouldn’t we at least get the terminology right?
It was Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), the Islamic scholar known as Averroes in the West, who said, “Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hate, and hate leads to violence. This is the equation.” And Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), the great Islamic scholar and mystic, who said, “He who knows himself, knows God,” What Ibn Arabi implies here is extremely profound and relates directly to the internal struggle, the very jihad against our egos, to purify ourselves and reach the Divine—the very thing that Western orientalists claim is a new phenomenon in Islam and the extremists have conveniently forgotten in their pathetic attempt to become relevant. Other Islamic sages such as Molavi, known in the West as Rumi, Mahmood Shabistari, Mulla Sadra, Suhrewardi—the founder of the Islamic Philosophy of Illumination—have all advocated this internal struggle to self-purify and gain self-knowledge. Surely, these hakims, scholars, would argue that the orientalists are in fact wrong, and the internal spiritual jihad is not a new concept, but has existed since the time of the Prophet, who said, “The greatest jihad is to battle your own soul, to fight the evil within you.”
By gaining knowledge about Islam, it’s rich philosophy and mysticism, we become deeply disturbed by the intellectual laziness of the extremists who claim to represent billions of Muslims and have no legitimacy in the eyes of the majority. As Muslims, whether secular or religious, it is our responsibility to free ourselves from our own internal biases and understand Islam, and not fall prey to superficial power symbolisms used by extremists or the divisive narrative of the orientalists.
But I digress. Let me go back to the subject of the Prophet’s wars. There were nine battles during the time of the Prophet including Badr, Uhud and Ditch—all defensive engagements against offensive attacks by the Quraysh, who prosecuted the Prophet and his followers for thirteen years. There was the incident of Qurayzah, which was an implementation of the arbitration against traitors at the battle of Ditch. Al-Mustaliq was a response to an attack already in progress. And Khaybar’s plan to attack the Muslims triggered the Prophet’s march to Khaybar with 3000 men against their 10,000. As for Fath Mecca, the Prophet march to Mecca was a popular bloodless attempt to take control of his home city after eight years of exile. 
Here lies the discrepancy: While Muslims believe that the engagements during the Prophet’s lifetime were defensive and the Muslims involved in these incidents were victims of aggression, the same incidents have been portrayed by Western Orientalists as holy war launched by the Prophet or military operations to dominate the world. Since these events happened fourteen hundred years ago, there are thousands of reports about the Prophet’s life and his sayings, which means that contemporary researchers must go through thousands of reports to understand the justification for going to war in this period. Classical Muslim scholars developed complex and specialized methodologies to interpret these texts and decide on their authenticity. They concluded that military jihad referred to as minor jihad, is an exception. If minor jihad is required, it can be done using anything from legal, diplomatic and economic to political means. If there are no peaceful alternatives, Islam allows the use of force, but there are strict rules of engagement. The lives of the innocent must be protected and any peaceful overtures from the enemy must be accepted. 
The Quran says, “God made you into many nations and tribes so that you come to know one another.” In other words, human diversity is part of the Divine plan and the challenge for us is to interact with others despite our differences. Therefore, classical scholars reached the conclusion that war must be treated as a last resort because war is not a superior moral virtue.  The Quranic justification for war does not employ the word jihad as the term for combat, but qital, and there are plenty of verses that clarify Quran’s position—all of which are ignored by the extremists to push their own agenda:
Let’s reiterate. Jihad is not "holy war" but then why do so-called “jihadists” kill innocent people?”
As Franz Fanon (1925-1961) said in Black Skin White Masks, “Fervor is the weapon of choice of the impotent.” The extremist’s violent acts come from a sense of powerlessness and frustrations felt in the Muslim world since their countries were colonized and occupied by Western powers. It’s these psychological issues that lead to highly sensationalist symbolic acts.
Extremist groups such as al-Qaeda, Daesh, Taliban, Wahhabis or the Shia radicals in power in Iran, far from being authentic expressions of classical Islam, are a byproduct of colonialism and modernity. Despite what they say, these radical groups ignore the diverse and rich history of the Islamic civilization and define their entire existence as opposition to the West. Unfortunately, the Western media and policy makers contribute to the issues facing Muslims either through lack of knowledge or intentionally, and even worse this ignorance and prejudice is now shared by many Muslims who do not know about their own traditions and in their limited knowledge accuse anyone who dares to highlight the humanistic aspect of Islam as westernized. 
As Muslims we have a responsibility to ourselves and others to gain both self-knowledge and knowledge about our history and religion. Otherwise, we’ll never break free from this web of violence and deceit.
As our beloved Molavi (Rumi) once said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Know your inherent beliefs.