Encyclopaedia Iranica Online

(18,846 words)

influential social thinker, prominent historian, a pioneer of Iran’s linguistic studies, well-known social and religious reformer with a sense of prophetic mission, and prolific author.

A version of this article is available in print

Volume XVI, Fascicle 1, pp. 87-105

blod:KASRAVI, AḤMAD (b. Tabriz, 29 September 1890; d. Tehran, 11 March 1946; Figure 1), influential social thinker, prominent historian, a pioneer of Iran’s linguistic studies, well-known social and religious reformer with a sense of prophetic mission, and prolific author.

Figure 1. Photograph of Aḥmad Kasravi, early 1940s. (Courtesy of Amir Kojoori)Figure 1. Photograph of Aḥmad Kasravi, early 1940s. (Courtesy of Amir Kojoori)


Early life. Kasravi was born in Ḥokmāvār, a poor rural quarter in the suburbs of Tabriz, to Ḥāji Mir Qāsem, a small merchant in a family of religious functionaries. He entered a traditional school (maktab; see education iii) at the age of six in the expectation that he would become a mullah to carry on his paternal ancestors’ role of religious leader for the quarter. Although the school’s semiliterate mullah could not educate the intelligent and curious young boy, Kasravi successfully completed the traditional program in the course of four years with the help of his father and other relatives at home. At the age of 11, he lost his father. At 13, responsible for his family’s future, he took charge of his father’s carpet-weaving business, a job that ended after eight months upon the permanent closing of the business. He then took over the management of the carpet-weaving business of a close friend of his father. About three years later, at the urging of his family he left that trade to resume his theological studies. In a short time he mastered Arabic grammar and then enrolled in the Ṭālebiya School, the biggest school in Tabriz, where he met Shaikh Moḥammad Ḵiābāni (q.v), who was teaching traditional astronomy (Hayʾat-e qadim; Kasravi, 1990, pp. 5-30).


Kasravi as a constitutionalist. In 1906 there broke out in Iran the Constitutional Revolution (q.v.), of which Tabriz became a, if not the, principal home. Kasravi had just turned 16. He subscribed to the seminal ideas of the movement, such as the establishment of a constitutional government and the founding of a National Assembly (Majles-e šurā-ye melli). When a segment of the Shiʿite clergy proved hostile to the movement, he did not hesitate to denounce them openly (idem, 1990, pp. 31-32).

A bloody war broke out between the adherents and the detractors of the movement, turning the town into a battlefield. Most of the men of the Kasravi family were opposed to the movement, which forced him to go into seclusion and devote his time to reading all the books he could find. As a result of the defeat of the opponents of the movement and the dismissal of Moḥammad- ʿAli Shah Qajar (r. 1907-9), the town recovered its composure, and Kasravi resumed his theological studies (idem, pp. 33-35).

Kasravi as a mullah. After two years of study, he became eligible for the rank of mullah. His family wanted it, but Kasravi hated this job and preferred to find work in the bazaar of Tabriz. In the end he gave in to his family’s wishes, but he decided not to act like an ordinary mullah: he refrained from reciting tales of martyrs and criticized from the lofty pulpit the false claims of the mullahs about the martyrs. After a while, he did no more than officiate at religious marriages, and he refrained from performing the other duties of his position. This lasted a year and a half, and throughout that time he tried to free himself of the burden of an occupation he found so disagreeable. Nonetheless, he memorized the Qurʾān and meditated on the meaning of its verses. Thus doubt began to gnaw at his mind (idem, 1990, pp. 35-43).

In 1911, Moḥammad- ʿAli Shah, the deposed and banished king, secretly returned to Iran and, rallying his supporters, attempted to overthrow the constitutional government (idem, 1992, p. 172). A new war broke out between the adherents and the detractors of the movement. The town of Tabriz found itself surrounded by the forces favoring the deposed king. The appearance of Halley’s Comet in the sky over the town at the moment when savage combat was taking place within its confines terrified the population, most of whom took this coincidence as a sign of the imminent end of the world. On several nights Kasravi climbed to the roof of his house and observed the comet in an attempt to discover some facts on this matter. Eventually he came across an article in Arabic in a special number of the Egyptian monthly Al-moqtatef. On the one hand, he was astonished that so sumptuous a magazine was published in Egypt, and on the other, he realized that European astronomy had nothing in common with what was known by that name in Iran. This incident led him to become involved with modern science. He acquired physics, chemistry, mathematics, and geography books and began to read (idem, 1990, p. 44).

In late December 1911, a merciless war pitted the constitutionalist combatants of Tabriz against Russian soldiers sent by the Czarist government to snuff out their movement and restore the deposed king to the throne (idem, 1992, pp. 261-74). The fervor aroused in Kasravi by the heroic resistance of the fighters led him to take to the pulpit in mosques throughout the town to call the population to rise up. But after four days of relentless combat, the war ended with the rout of the defenders and the execution of the most ardent (idem, 1992, p. 275). The anti-constitutionalist mullahs took advantage of the presence of the Russian forces and thundered relentlessly against the constitutionalist faction, including Kasravi by virtue of his pro-resistance position. They even excommunicated him in an attempt to turn the faithful against him. All these events had a happy outcome for Kasravi, for he would be freed from the onerous position of mullah (idem, 1990, pp. 45-46).

Palpable terror ruled the town. Kasravi once again found himself in seclusion. He spent his time studying mathematics and astronomy. He would also occasionally visit the main bazaar in town to pass some hours at the business offices of his circle, where he met educated men, all of them partisans of liberty, some of whom spoke European languages. It was they who taught him the real meaning of the word mašruṭeh (constitutional government), of which he would remain for the rest of his life a staunch defender.

At the same time he was pursuing his study of Arabic, so successfully that after a while he began to write articles in that language and send them to the scientific journal al-ʿErfān published in Sidon, Lebanon, which welcomed them.

The outbreak of World War I in summer 1914 engendered great hopes among the constitutionalists. Azerbaijan became a theater of operations. The Russians increased their numbers there, and the Ottoman troops, fighting the Russian army, approached Tabriz. The constitutionalists seized the opportunity to join forces with them (idem, 1992, pp. 591-98). But the Ottomans immediately suffered defeat and fell back.

In 1915, Kasravi was 25. After several years of attempting to penetrate modern science, he realized that he needed to learn a European language. He first studied French and acquired a degree of familiarity, and then he enrolled in English classes at the Memorial School, an American school in Tabriz (see education xv. foreign and minority schools in persia), where at the same time he was asked to teach Arabic, for which he wrote an elementary textbook. Meanwhile, he learned Esperanto, from which he began to translate articles into Arabic for publication in al-ʿErfān (idem, 1990, pp. 60-61).

At the end of the academic year, Kasravi was again unemployed, and since he could not find work in Tabriz, he decided to go to the Caucasus to look for a job in one of the prosperous towns of the region. He settled in Tbilisi, where he set about learning Russian and striking up friendships with many supporters of liberty. His job search did not succeed; in late September he returned to Tabriz (idem, 1990, p. 71).


The Russian Revolution of February 1917 stirred great excitement throughout Iran and especially in Azerbaijan. The Russian soldiers in Azerbaijan switched sides and after six years of occupation and terror displayed a change of heart toward the local fighters (idem, 1992, p. 674). Meanwhile, conflicts between the various religious sects took on a political aspect. The Šayḵis, the Motešarreʿ, the Karimḵānis, the Azalis (q.v.), and other sects bridled against each other. Kasravi attempted to soothe these confrontations, which he considered meaningless and useless. These incidents had a profound effect on him and led him in later years to work out a Deist religion called Pākdini (“pure religion”) with the aim of denominational unification of all Iranians (idem, 1998a, p. 5).

After the October Revolution and the departure of the Russians, Shaikh Moḥammad Ḵiābāni, a member of the old Democratic Party that had been dissolved in 1912, rebuilt the party in Azerbaijan, but dissent broke out immediately at its heart; Kasravi intervened, and the Democrats, whom Kasravi joined, ended up uniting under the authority of Ḵiābāni, but shortly after, the arbitrary decisions of its head led him to openly criticize the leadership of the party, which resulted in a movement of dissent. A group gathered around Kasravi calling itself Tanqidiyun (“the Critics”) and seceded from the party. The opposing group called itself Tajaddodiyun (“the Modernists,” refering to the newspaper Tajaddod, published by Ḵiābāni as the organ of his Democrat Party (Ferqa-ye Demokrat; see Ṣadr Hāšemi, Jarāyed o majallāt II, pp. 105-6). Kasravi paid the price of his daring by his forced resignation from the public high school in Tabriz, where he had been teaching Arabic, and fled to Tehran (Kasravi, 1990, pp. 90-95).

On 8 April 1920, after a successful uprising, Ḵiābāni seized all the levers of power in the town. In order not to impede the performance of the new provincial government and to avoid all confrontation, Kasravi and his companions dissolved their group by sending out a press release. But the diehard Ḵiābānites harassed them. Kasravi had to secretly leave Tabriz and take shelter for a week in a nearby village. After his return to Tabriz, he was contacted and encouraged by a representative of the central government and the British chargé d’affaires to challenge the power of Ḵiābāni, but he refused to take part in any rebellion against him. Even though he was innocent, he was suspected by Ḵiābāni of participating in a conspiracy and found himself forced to leave the town for Tehran in the wake of the revelation of a plot incited by the central power against Ḵiābāni with the involvement of some of his companions (idem, 1992, pp. 865-79).


In Tehran, Kasravi was hired by the minister of education to teach Arabic at the Ṯervat High School. He stayed away from all unrest among Azerbaijani exiles against Ḵiābāni. The failure of negotiations of Ḥāj Moḵber-al- Salṭana, governor-designate of Azerbaijan, with Ḵiābāni resulted on 8 September 1920 in attacks by Cossacks on the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and the homes of its leaders in Tabriz. On 21 September 1920, Ḵiābāni died in his hideout during a fight against his attackers (idem, 1998b, pp. 165-67). Kasravi refused to return to Tabriz, but in a letter to his comrades he asked them not to refrain from showing their sympathy toward the companions of Ḵiābāni, most of whom had been arrested.

During his stay in Tehran, which lasted only five months, the Justice Administration offered him several positions in various towns, which he refused. In the end he accepted the position of judge in the Tabriz appellate court, but three weeks later, on 21 February 1921, a coup by the Cossack division under the command of Colonel Reza Khan put an end to it. Power fell into the hands of Sayyed Żiāʾ-al-Din Ṭabāṭabāʾi, who ordered the suspension of the activities of the Justice Administration. Kasravi was out of work (Manafzadeh, 2004, p. 71).

Meanwhile, with the participation of several scholars he founded an association with the name “Esperanto.” His interest in this language was due to the fact that in his eyes, one of the problems of humanity lay in the multiplicity of complicated languages, and thus in the mutual incomprehension that resulted. He hoped that Esperanto would become, by reason of its extreme simplicity, the second language of every nation on earth (Kasravi, 1990, p. 122).

In August 1921, he lost his wife. Deeply affected, he entrusted his two young daughters to his brother and once again set out on the road to Tehran. After a month of negotiation with the Justice Administration, he accepted appointment as a judge on the Court of Appeals of Māzandarān, the Caspian province. After four days of travel by horse and mule, he reached Sāri, capital of the province, where he stayed for only four months, thanks to the closing of his Court of Appeals by order of the minister of justice, ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Teymurtāš. When he got back to Tehran (in April 1921), he met with him and was promised a good job. But two days later, the government of Sayyed Żiāʾ collapsed, and Teymurtāš lost his portfolio. Nonetheless, shortly afterward Kasravi was given a judicial assignment in Damāvand, a town northeast of Tehran, where he spent the three summer months, an opportunity he took advantage of to write in Arabic the history of the constitutional movement for the monthly al-ʿErfān (idem, 1990, p. 141). The Persian version of this history was to be published beginning in 1934 as a supplement to the monthly magazine Peymān that Kasravi started in 1933.

In October 1922, under a law passed by the Assembly, judges were required to take an examination in Tehran. Kasravi passed. During his two months in Tehran, he began research into the history of Māzandarān, whose results were published in the weekly magazine Nobahār. Meanwhile, he was sent on a fact-finding mission regarding a clash in Zanjān sub-province in northwestern Iran. He there thwarted the power of the mullahs, who, despite the establishment of a constitutional government in the country, still controlled the judicial system of the town. He succeeded in liberating Justice from the supervision of the clergy (idem, 1990, p. 153).

At Zanjān, he continued to write his Arabic history of the role of Azerbaijan in the constitutional movement (see below, iii) and simultaneously undertook research on the Babi movement (see babism), of which this town had been one of the most active centers. At the end of summer 1923, he took a few weeks of vacation to visit his family in Tehran (he had remarried during his stay in Māzandarān). Then Justice appointed him examiner of the competence of judges in Qazvin and Zanjān—a job which involved administering a series of tests.


Shortly afterward, in December 1923, Aḥmad Shah (q.v.), who was preparing to leave for Europe, named Reza Khan Sardār Sepah, the powerful war minister, as prime minister. The judicial authority of the new government summoned Kasravi to Tehran to send him to Shushtar as head of the tribunal of Khuzestan, an oil-rich province in southwestern Iran, where Shaikh Ḵazʿal (q.v.), chief of the Arab tribe of the Bani Kaʿb, ruled over what was in practice a British protectorate. Kasravi’s work there was contested by the men and the sons of the shaikh, who controlled nearly all the towns of the province. In fact, he ascertained that the heads of the state administrative departments were mere pawns of the shaikh. By his activity and his desire to make the law of the country supreme, Kasravi aroused the animosity of Shaikh Ḵazʿal and his sons (idem, 1994, pp. 227-25).

While he was there, he also undertook research into the dialects of Khuzestan, just as he had done in Mazandaran. His research on Iranian dialects would harmonize later with the movement for purification of the Persian language, which would be launched with the support of the political authorities, in order to render Persian more vigorous and better able to respond to the needs of modern times. Within these dialects Kasravi found a real treasure of Iranian words that had become obsolete centuries before from not having been used by poets and administrators, to the extent that the Iranians considered them foreign. In his opinion, all these dialects—as well as all the regional languages, including Kurdish, Turkish, and Arabic—were bound to disappear bit by bit, being replaced by Persian, which he hoped would become robust, evolved, and powerful. His understanding of language and its role in modern society was incorporated into the framework of his project for the construction of a modern nation-state in Iran replicating the European model of nation-states.

Kasravi also threw himself into the study of the history of Khuzestan and undertook research on ancient sites such as Susa, Gondēšāpur (q.v.), and Ahwaz (q.v.), as well as on the origins of the Ḵazʿal family. He would later publish the results of these investigations in a book called “Five centuries of the history of Khuzestan” (Tāriḵ-e pānṣadsāla-ye Ḵuzestān). At the same time he continued his work within the Justice Administration, but his activities clashed with Ḵazʿal’s sabotage and with the system he had set up. Meanwhile, the national army had turned toward Khuzestan and was reconquering, town by town, this highly coveted province. Kasravi and his staff took part in the capture of the city of Dezful (q.v.; idem, 1994, p. 247).

Shortly after the war’s end in December 1924, during the transitional period from the semi-autonomous rule of Shaikh Ḵazʿal to the establishment of the central authority, Kasravi’s intransigent nature led to a serious conflict with the carefully designed operation of the central government. General Fażl-Allāh Zāhedi, the military governor of Khuzestan, pursued a policy of the gradual submission of Shaikh Ḵazʿal to preclude his uprising against the small government garrison in the region. Ignoring the operational design of the central government, Kasravi rushed to establish the justice department in Nāṣeri (see ahvāz; Kasravi, 1990, pp. 228-34). In early 1925, at the behest of the prime minister, Reza Khan Sardār Sepah, the minister of justice recalled Kasravi to Tehran. Meanwhile, Shaikh Ḵazʿal, who had lived freely after the arrival of government troops in Khuzestan, was arrested and sent to Tehran, and his dominion collapsed (idem, 1994, p. 249).


As soon as he arrived in Tehran, Kasravi learned from the minister of justice himself that a file had been opened against him on the basis of the reports of the military governor of Khuzestan in order to take him to trial. But shortly afterward, the truth of what had happened in Khuzestan came out, and the minister of justice thanked him for his work there. Nonetheless, he did not wish to go to the provinces, and the minister could not find a job for him in Tehran. Thanks to the provisional pension granted him in recognition of his services in the Justice Administration, Kasravi resumed his research (idem, 1990, p. 244).

The first book he published after his return to Tehran was called Āẕari (a historical survey of the ancient language of Azerbaijan). He shows that the word āẕari found in most books of medieval history, especially those from the first centuries of Islam, is the name of the old language of Azerbaijan that was related to the Iranian languages and was a descendant of the language of the Medes with no relationship to Turkish (idem, 1993, p. 62). This book enjoyed worldwide scholarly success. The publication of this work can also be considered an affirmation of the indestructible bond of Turkophone Iranians to Iran. Investigating the linguistic relationship of the Iranians of the past was just as much an assertion of their linguistic unity in the future as a means of demonstrating that every Iranian rejoiced in the same, continuous identity (Manafzadeh, 2004, p. 95).

His further works included: “Shaikh Ṣafi and his lineage” (Šayḵ Ṣafi va tabāraš), in which he questions the supposed prophetic ancestry of the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736; Kasravi, 1996b, pp. 59-105); “History of the lion and the sun” (Tāriḵča-ye šir o ḵoršid), a work on the emblem on the Iranian flag of the era, under which he hoped to reunite all his compatriots (idem, 1996b, pp. 17-55); “The names of Iranian towns and villages” (Nāmhā-ye šahrhā va dihhā-ye Irān), an unprecedented, systematic investigation of a topic in the geography of Iran (idem, 2000, pp. 193-286); and finally, “The unknown rulers” (Šahriārān-e gomnām), relating the history of the dynasties that came to power in Iran during the first centuries of Islam, who were unknown to the historiographers of his time (idem, 1978, p. 13). Kasravi was so engrossed in his research that he was not even aware of the deposition of the Qajar family and the accession of the Pahlavi dynasty (12 December 1925).


A few months later, a new minister of justice was lavishly inaugurated in the presence of the new king (Reza Shah). Kasravi was named public prosecutor of Tehran (moddaʾia’l-omum). He carried out an educational mission in Khorasan and, on the insistence of Dāvar, the minister of justice, replaced his turban with a hat. But because of his inflexibility in the application of the law, he fell into open conflict with his supervising minister and found himself obligated to resign from the Justice ministry.

After his resignation, for a little over a year he practiced law, and then returned to the Ministry of Justice and took a job in the Court of Assizes in Tehran. Next, on the insistence of the minister of justice, he became president of the tribunal de première instance (dādgāh-e bedāyat), a position he held for 18 months. In his own estimation, it was the most meritorious period of his life (idem, 1990, p. 281). While he held this position, he fought every breach of the principles of deontology within the Justice ministry. During that time he wrote a book called Qānun-e dādgari (The law of justice) in which he condemned the inconsistencies in the ministry’s laws and the strictness of its procedures. In 1929, he was appointed to the Department of the Inspector-General, newly created by the minister of justice, to scrutinize the tribunals of various departments. He went with a group of inspectors to Hamadān and Arāk (idem, 1990, p. 311).

At the end of 1929, his position within the Justice ministry became more and more tenuous. His courageous behavior aroused both jealousy and hostility among high-ranking members of the ministry. Also his own personality traits contributed to making the situation worse. Although Kasravi enjoyed the patronage of ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Teymurtāš, the powerful minister of court, who even supported him in his ruling against the royal court over the dispute on Evin farmlands, and ʿAli-Akbar Dāvar, the reforming minister of justice, frequently overlooked his innate righteousness and intransigence, Kasravi found himself alienated at the ministry and resigned. After several months of inactivity, he was eventually authorized to resume the practice of law (idem, 1990, pp. 317-25; for mounting problems during the early years of judicial reform by Dāvar and the complexity of the formation of modern judicial and legal systems [q.v.], see Golšāʾiān, I, pp. 52-59, 24-127, 141-49).


Beginning in 1933, when he founded the magazine Peymān, a new period of his life commenced. While he continued to pursue his studies in history and linguistics, he entered the lists as a reformer or, as he put it, as a destroyer of illusions. That was the period when the enforced modernization of the country was in full swing. Aware of the limitations imposed on him by the Board of Censors, he began to work out his ideas in certain very specific domains. His history of the constitutional movement was published in Persian for the first time starting in 1934 as a supplement to this magazine.

One of the most burning questions he addressed at this point concerned cultural relations between Iran and the West. It was a time when the passion for Europe among Iranians who favored modernism was at its peak. Kasravi reacted against this passion, which he dubbed “Europeanism,” by writing a book called Āyin (The way) in which he questioned the idea of progress by wondering about the consequences of technological innovations for human life (idem, 1933, p. 22). Still, he approved of several aspects of Western civilization, such as constitutional government, patriotism, the rule of law, modern science, and the textile and agricultural industries, and he urged his compatriots to take full advantage of certain scientific and technological innovations (idem, 1940, nos. 4 to 10, p. 18). On the other hand, he warned them against certain “negative” aspects of that civilization, such as materialism, the din of progress, the burgeoning of political parties, romance novels, and so on. Where this book touches on the place of women in society, he remained dependent on Irano-Islamic tradition. He thought that in a society dominated by men, a woman absolutely must live under the protection of a man (idem, 1932, p. 78). This conformist attitude reveals to us how difficult it was for him to free his mind from the influence of the religious education he had received in his youth.

The language used by Kasravi at this time in his articles explicitly violates the usual norms of the Persian language, both syntactically and lexically (idem, 2002, pp. 139-62). His perseverance on this path and the enthusiastic reception accorded by some of his sympathizers to his linguistic innovations even encouraged the state authorities to decide in favor of a language reform that grew bit by bit into a movement that continues to this day.

In 1934, while Kasravi was teaching Iranian history as an adjunct professor at both the Faculty of Theology (Dāneškada-ye maʿqul o manqul) and the Military Academy (Dāneškada-ye afsari) in Tehran, the National Assembly ratified the law of appointment and tenure of professors. Even though he met all the requirements, the university administrations subjected his nomination to the condition that he retract his outrageous proposals concerning “poetry and the craft of the poet” that he had published in his magazine. But Kasravi did not submit (Zokāʾ, 1973, p. hašt). Yet his name appears among the professors of history at the Faculty of letters of the University of Tehran (Sāl-nāma-ye šarq, 1320 Š./1941, p. 131). In 1937, he agreed to provide the defense of 53 communist sympathizers (Panjāh o se nafar) who had been arrested on the order of Reza Shah. Without having the least intellectual affinity with the defendants, he skillfully undermined the basis of the indictment (Ḵāmeʾi, 1982, p. 167).


The outbreak of World War II and the ambiguity of the position of Iran vis-à-vis the belligerents led on 16 September 1941 to the abdication of Reza Shah in favor of his son. One of the consequences of his departure and the Allied occupation of the country was the emergence of several political parties. Kasravi seized the opportunity to propagate his ideas freely, and to this end he immediately founded an organization called “Society of Free Men” (Bāhamād-e Āzādegān), whose platform consisted basically of combating what he called illusions (Rāʾed, 1986, pp. 39-47). In 1942 he started a newspaper, Parčam, which was envisaged as a daily, the better to disseminate his thought.

A politico-cultural movement grew up around the platform of his organization and from time to time carried out despicable acts such as the annual burnings of books that Kasravi considered deleterious to the education of youth. Collections of poems by the great Persian poets, including Jalāl-al-Din Rumi, Hafez (q.v.), Khayyam (q.v.), and Saʿdi, were also cast into the flames during a symbolic ceremony performed on the 22nd of December every year. For according to Kasravi, classical Persian poetry had no other message to convey than Sufism, against which at the moment he was conducting a ruthless war. In his book Ṣufigari (Sufism), he deprecates the solemn tributes that the European orientalists and their Iranian associates were then awarding the Persian mystical poets. He held that Sufism taught the young nothing but idleness, inactivity, and celibacy (Kasravi, 1996a, p. 228; see below, vi).

Meanwhile, he continued to practice law; in the summer of 1942, he provided the defense of Rokn-al-Din Moḵtār (q.v.; Sarpās Moḵtāri), chief of police of Reza Shah, who, after the latter’s departure, had been indicted for acts deemed criminal during the exercise of his authority (Makki, 1980, p. 786). Kasravi defended a considerable number of the undertakings of Reza Shah. At the time when (after his abdication) he was the object of virulent attacks by many journalists and some politicians, Kasravi wrote in his book Dādgāh (The tribunal, Tehran, 1944) in favor of the major accomplishments of Reżā Shah, such as the creation of a national army, imposition of public order, the military draft, limiting the influence of the clergy, prohibition of women wearing the veil, banning public selfflagellation in honor of the martyrs of Karbalā, the requirement to dress in European fashion, and the imprisonment of marauding chiefs of nomadic tribes (Kasravi, 1944, pp. 52-53).

The occupation of the country by foreign troops, which lasted until the end of the war, created a condition of disorder and fostered intense political rivalry within the Assembly and in the press. Taking advantage of the presence of the Red Army in Azerbaijan, Sayyed Jaʿfar Piševari, a veteran Azerbaijani communist, seized the opportunity to found the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and in November 1945 proclaimed the autonomy of Azerbaijan. Supported by the Soviets, the Party constituted a local authority to which the Iranian army units stationed in Azerbaijan submitted. Another separatist government, a Kurdish one supported by the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and the Soviets, was formed at Mahābād. For their part, the English, in collaboration with the nomadic tribal chiefs of the south and southwest, were getting ready to impose their empire in the southern provinces and Khuzestan. The dismemberment of the country appeared to be a fait accompli. This was the milieu in which Kasravi composed an essay with a political tinge called Sarnevešt-e Irān čeh ḵāhad bud? (What will the future of Iran be?), in which he analyzes the country’s perilous situation, delivers an intelligent critique of the political platforms of the parties, and lastly takes on the undignified behavior of both the majority and minority deputies in the National Assembly, who at the time were ripping into each other with abuse and slander. He lists the dangers that were threatening the territorial integrity of the country and reveals the flaws of the political plans of the parties and the incoherence of the ideologies that controlled their minds (idem, 1945, pp. 74-89). Most of the themes of the essay remain relevant today.

Faithful to his principles, to the end of his life Kasravi remained an unremitting defender of order, national unity, justice, the Constitution, and the modernization of the country. He staunchly opposed everything he considered an obstacle to realizing these ideals. Thus it was that he ventured onto a dangerous path that all the secular intellectuals of his period attempted to bypass. The defiance he would hurl at Shiʿism was unforgivable, not only for the clergy and religious fanatics, but also for the high officials of the country. With the publication of his book Šiʿigari [Shiʿism] in late 1943, he signed his own death warrant. Shortly after its publication, he wrote another book, on Bahaism, called Bahāʾigari, which takes it to be an extension of Shiʿism. The two books complemented each other. Kasravi treats some aspects of Shiʿism in the book on Bahaism. According to him, the messianism on which Bahaism relies is an illusion, contrary to the natural law of the universe. Such a belief prevents men from exercising good behavior, since it is assumed a priori that man can do nothing against the evil that grows from day to day (Kasravi, 1996a, p. 63). In his analysis of this religion, Kasravi appeals generously to reason. He rejects all argument from authority (dalil-e naqli), without which no revealed religion can stand. He intended in part to lift the intellectual obstacles that formed a barrier to national unity and in part to propagate a degree of rationalism in a world where the ancestral culture transmitted by literature and religious faith found it hard, because of its propensity for the irrational, to incorporate scientific thought, the keystone of the incredible success of Western societies.

Kasravi’s critical analysis of Shiʿism undermined its historical foundations and in the process its doctrinal bases. According to him, Shiʿism began as a legitimate political movement, and its adherents were devout men who fought loyally for their cause (ibid., p. 109). But from the moment of their failure, Shiʿism lost its legitimacy and little by little became a backward current. The temporal nature of the origin of Shiʿism and its subsequent development allowed Kasravi to analyze it rationally without risking any sort of theological debate. In this way he questions the Imamate in its entirety and the very concept of the Hidden Imam, two essential elements without which Shiʿism makes no sense. As for Shiʿite rituals, he placed them in a positivistic perspective and observed them from a purely sociological point of view (see below, v). As soon as Kasravi’s book of Šiʿigari appeared, it aroused a severe reaction on the part of the mullahs and fudamentalist Muslims and led to his assassination by a band of Devotees of Islam (Fedāʾiān-e eslām; q.v.) on 11 March 1946 (see below, ii).


Selected works by Kasravi. Āyin I, Tehran, 1932.

Āyin II, Tehran, 1933.

“Man čeh miguyam? in Peymān 1/9, 1934, pp. 6-11.

“Mā čeh miḵāhim?” in Peymān 6/4-10, offprint, 1940.

Dādgāh, Tehran, 1944.

Dowlat be mā pāsoḵ dahad, Tehran, 1944, extract in Iran Nameh 20/2-3, Spring and Summer, 2002, p. 327.

Zendegāni-ye man, Tehran 1944; and Dah sāl dar ʿadliya, Tehran, 1944; all references to the two preceding titles are to new ed. in Zendegāni-ye man; Dah sāl dar ʿadliya; Čerā az ʿadliya birun āmadam, Piedmont, Calif, 1990).

Sarnevešt-e Irān čeh ḵāhad bud, Tehran, 1945; repr., Saarbrücken, n.d.

Šahriārān-e gomnām, Tehran, 1978. Zendagāni-e man, Piedmont, Calif., 1990.

Tāriḵ-e hejdah sāla-ye Āzarbāyjān, 10th ed., Tehran, 1992.

Āẕari yā zabān-e bāstān-e Āẕarbāygān, 3rd ed., Tehran, 1946; references are to repr., Bethesda, Md., 1993, pp. 31-112.

Tāriḵ-e pānṣad sāla-ye Ḵuzestān, Tehran, 1994.

Bahāyigari, Šiʿigari, Ṣufigari, Köln, 1996a.

Čand maqāla, Köln, 1996b. Din va jahān, Köln, 1998a.

Qiām-e Šayḵ Moḥammad Ḵiābāni, Tehran, 1998b.

“Nāmhā-ye šahrhā va dihhā-ye Irān,” in Zabān-e pāk, Tehran, 2000, pp. 193- 286.

“Zabān-e fārsi,” in Peymān, ed. Ferdows, Tehran, 2002, pp. 139-62.


Yaḥyā Ḏokāʾ, Kārvand-e Kasravi, Introduction, Tehran, 1973, p. hašt.

ʿAbbāsqoli Golšāʾiān, Gozaštahā va andišahā-ye zendagi yā ḵāṭerāt-e man, 2 vols., Tehran, 1998.

Iran Nameh, Special Issue on Ahmad Kasravi, 20/2-3, 2002.

Anvar Ḵāmeʾi, Panjāh nafar va seh nafar, Tehran, 1982.

Ḥosayn Makki, Modarres, qahramān-e āzādi, Tehran, 1980.

Ali Reżā Manafzadeh, Ahmad Kasravi l’homme qui voulait sortir l’Iran de l’obscurantisme, Paris, 2004.

Jaʿfar Rāʾed, “Kasravi Tabrizi, mardi keh palang-e āramida-ye mazhab rā bešurānid,” Ruzgār-e now 5/5, June 1986, pp. 39-47.

For a comprehensive bibliographical survey on Kasravi, see below, vii.

(Translated from French by Peter T. Daniels.)


The occupation of Iran by Allied forces (September 1941) and the forced abdication of Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925-41) inadvertently encouraged limited social and political freedoms, which allowed publication of books and newspapers and formation of active social, political, and religious organizations previously prohibited. These formed all across Iran, and Islamic magazines and publications flourished. The surge in activities of Islamic groups and the intensification of the rhetoric of mullahs at mosques coincided with the escalation and sharpening of Kasravi’s criticism of the foundation of Shiʿite concepts and values.

During the period of late 1941 to mid-1945 Kasravi wrote some of his sharpest critique of the clergy and tenets of Shiʿism, Bahaism and Sufism. He became the embodiment of intellectual revision of official religious and cultural thought and the self-appointed, outspoken adversary of the resurgent Islamic movement. Kasravi let it be known through seventeen books and pamphlets, as well as numerous articles in his newspaper Parčam, that he believed the renaissance of political Islam and attempts to hold the government to Islamic law (šariʿa) were hostile to the modern values and institutions espoused by the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, in which Kasravi was a young participant (Kasravi, 1990, pp. 30-33; see above, i, and below, v).

Many instances of clashes between animated Muslim crowds and supporters of Kasravi in Tabriz, Rasht, and other cities were reported and documented by Parčam. Until spring of 1945, however, no direct attempts were made on Kasravi’s life. This task fell to an unknown orator and seminary student (ṭalaba) named Nawwāb Ṣafawi (q.v.). Born Sayyed Mojtabā Mirlawḥi in Ḵāniābād of Tehran (1924), he had attended seminary school in Najaf for 6 to 9 months after receiving a high school diploma from the German Technical School in Tehran (Madrasa-ye ṣanʿati). Nawwāb had seen or heard of Kasravi’s Šiʿigari in Najaf and observed the clergy’s disdain for this and other works of Kasravi.

Upon his return from Najaf in spring of 1945, Nawwāb confronted Kasravi for the first time during one of his scheduled discussion groups (jalasāt) before embarking on a failed assassination attempt. On 18 April 1945, Nawwāb and his associate Ḵoršidi attacked Kasravi at Hešmat-al- Dawla Square in Tehran (Eṭṭelāʿāt, 18 April 1945; Rahbar, 18 April 1945; Pākdāman, pp. 42-43). The assailants used knives and a gun purchased with money donated by Ayatollah Ḥājj Shaikh Moḥammad- Ḥasan Ṭālaqāni, the imam of Sayf-al-Dawla Mosque in Tehran (M. Amini, 2011, p. 67; Qayṣari, p. 36). Kasravi was seriously injured and taken to hospital. His assailants were jailed for a few days and released on bonds provided by a wealthy bazaar merchant (Pākdāman, p. 43; M. Amini, 2011, p. 69).

The inconclusive and less than truthful report by the police on 22 April accepted Nawwāb’s claim that he had acted in self-defense in using a knife and removing the gun from Kasravi’s hand. The medical statement quoted in the police report, however, indicated that “injuries on Kasravi’s back were caused by gunshot” (Eṭṭelāʿāt, 22 April 1945; Rahbar, 25 April 1945). Kasravi denied and ridiculed the police findings and stated his own version of the event to the press (Irān-e mā, 24 April 1945).

The report and the subsequent release of Nawwāb angered supporters of Kasravi and buoyed the ulama (ʿolamāʾ) and Shiʿite activists who had vigorously complained against Kasravi to the government in the past and demanded a cease and decease order against his publications. Kasravi had documented some of these complaints in a lengthy open letter to the prime minister, Sahām Solṭān Bayāt, entitled “Government should respond to us” (Kasravi, 1944). Some of the ulama from Kasravi’s birthplace of Tabriz had gone further and demanded that Kasravi be tried and executed for the burning of the Holy Qurʾān and for blasphemy (M. Amini, 2011, pp. 21-22).

A few weeks after the failed assassination attempt, Sayyed Ruḥ-Allāh Musawi al-Ḥosayni (later Ayatollah and Imam Khomeini) demanded that young martyrs for Islam respond to “this illiterate Tabrizi,” a reference to Kasravi’s birthplace (Emām Ḵomeyni, I, p. 21).

Upon his release from jail, Nawwāb issued a declaration titled Ḵun o enteqām (“Blood and revenge”; D. Amini, p. 77; M. Amini, 2003, p. 101) and announced the formation of Fedāʾiān-e Eslām, a Shiʿite fundamentalist group originally formed among young seminary students and zealot Muslims (Erāqi, p. 27; M. Amini, 2003, pp. 122-30; Vāḥedi, 1991, pp. 9-21; Ḡafuri, 1996, p. 216). Soon after, with the encouragement of Prime Minister Moḥsen Ṣadr (Ṣadr-al-Ašrāf), who was a mojtahed in civilian attire, the minister of education announced a new legal action against Kasravi, claiming that his books were against the šariʿa and a rarely used legal decree of 1922 (Kasravi, “Nāma-ye Āqā-ye Kasravi be vazir-e dādgostari,” in Irān-e mā, 27 February 1946). As legal action against Kasravi was proceeding, the rhetoric by the clergy and their supporters against “blasphemous” Kasravi escalated. In one such event, some four hundred mullahs and seminary students gathered in a mosque in Ḵāniābād neighborhood on 22 December 1945 and demanded that Kasravi be killed and his house ransacked, only to be dissuaded by Ayatollah Moḥammad Behbahāni, a leading mojtahed in Tehran (Irān-e mā, 13 March 1946).

Kasravi was assassinated during a court proceeding inside the Palace of Justice (Kāḵ-e dādgostari). In the early hours of 11 March 1946, a group of Fedāʾiān led by the Emāmi brothers (Sayyed Ḥosayn and Sayyed ʿAli) entered the courthouse and brutally murdered Kasravi and his long-time assistant, Sayyed Moḥammad- Taqi Ḥaddādpur, using knives and guns (Irān-e mā, 12 March 1946). It is claimed that the date, time, and location of proceedings, which were not public knowledge, were leaked to Fedāʾiān by the father of the judicial examiner (bāzpors; Farzāna, 1973, p. 46).

Some of the assailants were never charged (ʿEmād, 1/2, 1998, p. 109). Those who were arrested, including the Emāmi brothers, claimed self-defense and accused Kasravi of having initiated the confrontation using a gun (ibid.). Grand Ayatollah Ḥosayn Qomi, who was the second ranking source of emulation (marjaʿ) in Najaf at the time, sent a telegram from Najaf to Prime Minister Aḥmad Qavām demanding the immediate release of the jailed assailants and expressed his dismay at government inaction in recognition of the heroism of Kasrav̤i’s assailants (D. Amini, p. 127). They were all released by the Qavām government under pressure from ulama and religious leaders and influential merchants, after a short trial (Amir- ʿAbd-Allāh Karbāsčiān, Šāhed-e yārān, 16 March 2007, p. 66).

With the exception of a few articles in left-leaning newspapers, Kasravi’s murder was treated with silence by secular intellectuals and the press. But the response of religious groups and ulama was euphoric (Šarif Rāzi, I, 1954, pp. 200-201). Nawwāb and his Fedāʾiān group were treated as heroes of Islam and the šariʿa (D. Amini, p. 127; Šarif Rāzi, p. 109).

Although some historians believe that the Fedāʾiān acted upon a fatwā (edict) from Ayatollah ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Amini (see Pākdāman, pp. 18-19), no fatwā or claims thereof has ever surfaced. Ayatollah Qomi declared that no fatwā was needed and the Fedāiān’s action was on a par with the essential practices of Islam (foruʿ), such as daily prayers (namāz) and fasting (ruza; D. Amini, p. 131). The bodies of the victims, covered with deep wounds, were, without autopsy, taken on the evening of their assassination by Kasravi relatives to the Ẓahir-al-Dawla cemetery in Šemirān, near Tehran. The Sufi custodians of the cemetery refused to give permission for the burial on the ground of Kasravi’s anti-Sufi ideas and practices. Then the bodies were taken and buried at a spot in the foothills of Emāmzāda Ṣāleḥ, called Ābak (telephone interview with Amir Kojoori, Kasravi’s grandson, in Los Angeles, Calif. on 14 March 2012).


Dāvud Amini, Jamʿiyat-e Fedāʾiān-e Eslām va naš-e ānhā dar taḥavvolāt-e siāsi ejtemāʿi-e Irān, Tehran, 2002.

Mohammad Amini, Fedāʾiān-e Eslām va sowdā-ye ḥokumat-e eslāmi, Irvine, Calif., 2003.

Idem, “Pišgoftār,” in Ahmad Kasravi, 2011, pp. 3-31.

Emām Ḵomeyni, Ṣaḥifa-ye nur I, Tehran, 1984, p. 21.

Ḥājj Sayyed Mehdi ʿErāqi, Nāgoftahā, Tehran, 1991.

Moḥsen Farzāna, “Vāpasin ruzhā-ye Kasravi,” Ḵāṭerāt-e Vaḥid 26, 1973, pp. 45-46.

Sayyed Saʿid Ḡafuri, Kalām-e yārān, Tehran, 1996.

Aḥmad Kasravi, Dawlat be mā pāsoḵ dahad, Tehran, 1944; repr., Iran Nameh 20/2-3, 2001, pp. 327-40.

Idem, Zendagāni-e man, Piedmont, Calif., 1990.

Idem, Šiʿigari, ed. Moḥammad Amini, Los Angeles, Calif., 2011.

Said Nafisi, Ḵāṭerāt-e siāsi, adabi, javāni, Tehran, 2002.

Nāṣer Pākdāman, Qatl-e Kasravi, 4th ed., Köln, 2004.

Mehdi Qayṣari, Raḥbari be nām-e Nawwāb, Tehran, 2005.

Moḥammad Šarif Rāzi, Āṯār al-Ḥojja, 2 vols., Qom, 1954.

Sayyed Moḥammad Vāḥedi, “Tāriḵ-e Fedāʾiān-e Eslām az Šahid Nawwāb Ṣafawi,” Tāriḵ o farhang-e moʿāṣer 1/2, 1991, pp. 7-41.


At the time when Kasravi began to write history, most historical research in Iran was carried out within the framework of political historiography with a nationalist purpose. A goodly number of historians were engaged in tracing the traditional history of Iran (which, following the mythological eras, began with the Parthians and the Sasanians) back to the forgotten dynasties of the Medes and the Achaemenids, demonstrating a factual historical continuity of the Iranians with antiquity.

This historiography had two goals. The first, as Sayyed Ḥasan Taqizādeh (q.v.) said, was the imparting of new courage and hope to the Iranians by teaching them the “glorious” history of their ancestors (Kāveh, no. 25, 15 February 1918, p. 14). The second goal was for historical research to serve as the foundation for constructing Iran as a nation-state—an essential ambition for any government in modern times—by proving that all Iranians share the same continuous identity. This historiography was inherently anti-Arab and antiquarian (though not unprecedented in Iran’s history during the Islamic period; on the anti-Arab Šoʿubiya movement in the early Islamic period, see IRANIAN IDENTITY iii). It exalted pre- Islamic Iran and all that was considered purely Iranian in the cultural patrimony and to some degree rejected the contribution of Islam to Persian culture and civilization (see HISTORIOGRAPHY viii. QAJAR PERIOD; ix. PAHLAVI PERIOD; see also IRANIAN IDENTITY i-ii and iv).

To awaken patriotism among his compatriots and revivify their nationalist feelings, Kasravi took a different path. His deepest desire was to preserve and consolidate national unity, which he believed to be under threat from sectarian differences and the multiplicity of languages and dialects. As a young man, in his native town he had witnessed confrontations between different religious sects; and, having traversed many regions, he was aware of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Iranians, which he believed to be the source of mutual misunderstanding and hence of conflict. Each denomination, Kasravi tells us, had elaborated a history filled with loathing of Iran and had constructed a martyrology in which the martyrs were supposedly murdered by the Iranians (Peymān, September 1940, p. 420). Through examining Kasravi’s most significant works, we will see below how, beginning with these observations, he chose the themes of his research.

One of Kasravi’s concerns in his work was to demonstrate that the output of Western orientalists on Iranian history and culture was not error-free. This concern is related to his battle against the passion for Europe that he dubbed “Europeanism” (orupāyigari), which at the time had captivated the cultural and political elite and those Iranians who championed modernism. He rejected the notion that the work of famous European scholars was utterly impeccable. Nonetheless, he believed that in order to explore the history of their country scientifically, Iranian researchers had to learn the methods and procedures of European scholars in the humanities (Kasravi, 1978, p. 13). This was the mindset behind the article “Tāriḵ-e Ṭabarestān” (Kasravi, 1922-23), in which he showed that the famous English orientalist Edward G. Brown (q.v.) had committed flagrant errors both in his annotated edition of Ebn Esfandiār’s History of Tabarestān and in his English translation of the work. As Saʿid Nafisi acknowledged, it was the first time an Iranian scholar had pointed a finger at a scientific error of a European scientist (Sepid o siāh, 3/28, 1956, pp. 11-12).

Despite the diversity of topics investigated in Kasravi’s historical oeuvre, the goals he set in choosing them never varied. One of his most valuable aims—writing the history of the constitutional movement—was to awaken in his compatriots a real collective sensibility. He wanted to make the Iranians aware of the bravery, devotion, and determination of the fighters in the recent popular and unprecedented movement that had been unleashed in the cause of liberty and the establishment of a constitutional state (Kasravi, 1996a, p. 209). The pre-Islamic history of Iran was not, in his eyes, fertile ground for achieving that purpose. This history, which, thanks to the work of European orientalists and archeological excavations, had only recently become detached from folklore and mythology, to a large extent recorded the prowess in war of kings, the rise and fall of dynasties, and the continuity of Iranian kingship since the original Achaemenids; it scarcely concerned the man in the street. The constitutional movement was, in his opinion, “the supreme example of the demonstration of the meaning of the honor (ḡayrat) of any men whatever … whose bravery and resolve could awaken a sense of dignity among the Iranians” (Kasravi, 1996c, pp. 223-24). Kasravi narrates the deeds of these men with passion. He skillfully exploits the art of storytelling to render his account more appealing. He thus combines history and art without doing the facts any violence. His account allows the informed reader to comprehend the attitudes, the sensitivities, and the limitations of a generation in its quest for liberty and dignity.

Even though he never held a dichotomous vision of society and social groups, he thought that, within the constitutional movement, those who had sacrificed the most were in particular the illiterate or the poorly educated, most of whom had passed on or had scattered afterward. Since they did not seek to become known or be put on display, says Kasravi, they remained for the most part unacknowledged, leaving room for liars and braggarts, who had begun to put themselves forward as the principal players in the movement. If there was no one, he considered, to rise against these braggarts to rebut their claims, their lies would take root, and later, among future generations, few people would care to try to verify them (Kasravi, 1996c, p. 225).

Kasravi wished first of all to rescue the movement from oblivion, and secondly to pay homage to its unknown participants (Kasravi, 1994a, p. 3). According to him, the only cause of the extent and persistence of the movement was the steadfastness of men unknown, of shopkeepers and of ordinary folk, in pursuing the struggle against despotic power. It is thus natural, he concluded, for the history of this movement to be written in their name, out of consideration for their bravery and devotion (idem, pp. 3-4). It is necessary to be aware that if, in his history, Kasravi paid homage to the devotion of ordinary people to the ideals of the constitutional movement, it was not because he had any sort of natural affinity of mind with them. They were to become, in other circumstances, the object of his vicious criticism. In writing this history, the author was not satisfied with merely examining all the documents in Persian and English that were available to him; he also collected the accounts of the surviving participants in the movement. Kasravi’s two massive volumes on the history of the constitutional movement remain irreplaceable. No serious study of the topic can afford to ignore them.

The motivation for writing his essay on the Azeri language called “Āẕari, or the ancient language of Azerbaijan” (Kasravi, 1993), he says in the preface, was political. Its publication coincided with a controversy raging between Iranian and Istanbul and Baku papers on the origin of the Azerbaijanis. After examining both arguments, he came to the conclusion that the claims of the Turkish journalists were baseless, but the replies of the Iranian journalists were not founded in a knowledge of history. He therefore resolved to investigate the topic. In this book, he attempts to show that the word “Āẕari” found in most old history books, especially those from the first centuries of Islam, was the name of the old language of Azerbaijan and had nothing to do with Turkish (ibid., p. 62). Āẕari, he claimed, was a language born in the fusion of two ancient languages—that of the Medes (after their intrusion into Azerbaijan) and that of the original inhabitants of the country before the arrival of the Medes. It was related more closely to Iranian languages than to Turkish. He then explains how Turkish spread in Azerbaijan, and he clearly shows that, contrary to the received idea, this spread was not the work of the Mongols, because they, despite all their cruelty, did not attempt to change by force the language of a people. Moreover, Turkish was not their language. If they ruled all of Iran, Kasravi wondered, how was it that they had expanded Turkish only in Azerbaijan?

This book was to echo resoundingly among scholars. Nonetheless, it has not been uncontroversial since. Quite aside from the scientific interest of the work, on the political level its publication could be considered an assertion of the irrevocable commitment of Turkish speakers within Iran to Iran. The enthusiastic reception of this book by the intelligentsia of the period clearly shows how any discussion that in any way questioned national unity had galled them. This unity was, theoretically, based in the linguistic unity of all Iranians. If this unity was called into question by reality, it was necessary to search the past to justify its realization in the present. This is how Kasravi contributed to a historiography of national import with the mission of bolstering the ongoing, highly dynamic process of identity construction (se iranian identity iv).

By writing the history of the “unknown rulers” (Šahriārān- e gomnām; 1928-30; see Kasravi, 1978) or “Five centuries of the history of Khuzestan” (Tāriḵ-e pānṣadsāla-ye Ḵuzestān, 1934; see Kasravi, 1994b), Kasravi paved the way for regional history that remained outside the limited framework of national historiography. These two books associate geography and history to an extent. “The unknown rulers” tells the story of the dynasties that came to power in Iran during the first centuries of Islam, whose existence was unknown to contemporary historiography. According to Kasravi, from the fall of the Sasanians and the appearance of Islam in 642 to the deposition of the Qajars in 1925, more than 150 families ruled in Iran. Famous historians such as Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfi, Mirḵᵛānd, Ḵᵛāndamir, Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Sayyed Yaḥyā Sayfi Qazvini, and many others, who had written general traditional histories of Iran at different periods after the arrival of Islam, spoke of only twenty or so dynasties. If we want to know how the Iranians had been able to liberate themselves from the Arab yoke after the conquest of Iran, there was no other way than to investigate the history of the native rulers who had seized power here and there across Iranian territory in the 3rd and 4th centuries (Kasravi, 1978, p. 11). According to him, contrary to the claims of most historians who were in charge of writing the national history, the history of Iran after the accession of Islam is not at all clear, and we do not have sufficient resources to advance research in this domain. There are still many shadowy areas, especially as concerns the unknown rulers.

In addition to the Persian and Arabic texts on the history of Iran, we must, Kasravi tells us, make use of histories of the Armenians and Georgians, as well as works in Syriac and histories of the Eastern Roman Empire. Books of peoples who were in permanent contact with Iran can assist us in illuminating shadowy periods in our history (Kasravi, 1978, p. 13). Indeed, the history of the “unknown rulers” is a painstaking reconstruction of the past. The book is based on a vast array of sources in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Armenian, English, and French. Furthermore, to corroborate his findings, the author has dissected several collections of poems in Persian and Arabic. In this book, Kasravi also exposes several errors made by European orientalists or Iranian scholars in their works on the period corresponding to the reign of these unknown rulers (ibid., pp. 15, 132-34, 252-54). According to him, the task of the historian is like that of the zoologist who, by dint of laborious research, gathers old bones scattered underground to reconstruct the skeleton of an extinct animal. It is thus a matter of recreating history and not of narrating the events of the past (ibid., p. 14). Inspired by a metaphor, he describes the history of the past as follows: “If we view the history of the distant past as a human body, the history of the kings is, so to say, the framing of this body. This comparison is all the more relevant in the Orient where the masses have always been like sheep obedient to shepherds who are sometimes kindly, sometimes bloodthirsty” (ibid., pp. 10-11). It should be noted that reflections like this on history and the craft of the historian are without precedent in Iran.

In “Five centuries of the history of Khuzestan,” he not only recounts the fate of the families that headed the Arab tribes that had seized power one after the other in the region from the 9th/15th century to our day, but also provides valuable information on the country’s geography by describing the appearance of the towns, rivers, and dams. The book is in two separate parts, with the first presenting the history of the Mošaʿšaʿiān and the second the history of the Kaʿabiān (Bani Kaʿab). At the end of the book he describes the reign and fall of Shaikh Ḵazʿal (q.v.), chief of the Arab tribe of the Bani Kaʿb, who had been supported for a time by the British to constitute an autonomous government in Khuzestan. Kasravi had himself met the Shaikh during his stay in Khuzestan as head of the tribunal of this oil-rich province and had been present at his fall (Kasravi, 1994b, p. 248). After his return to Tehran, he gathered an immense amount of documentation of the pasts of the principal families of the country, including the beginnings of Sayyed Moḥammad Mošaʿšaʿ, who, in the 9th century claimed to be the Mahdi (the Hidden Imam of the Twelver Shiʿites) and succeeded, by force and the bloody repression of his opponents, in making himself chief of the Arab tribes of the province and imposing on them for centuries his and his family’s power. This book is also unique in the extent to which it is based on primary sources and gives for the first time the unexplored history of the region. It is through this type of study that Kasravi paved the way for scientific investigation of the history of the various regions of the country. No subsequent study of the history of Khuzestan can afford to ignore it.

The specifics that distinguish the work of Kasravi from the labors of his contemporaries are many. He is without doubt the first Iranian historian in modern times who in his investigation of the past did not shrink from recourse not only to linguistics, but also to numismatics and vexillology.

His long article “History of the lion and the sun” (Tāriḵča-ye šir o ḵoršid), also published separately, is dedicated to the Iranian “boy scouts” (pišāhangān) It is the outcome of scholarly research into the emblem on the Iranian flag. He shows how there appeared on the banners and coins of yesteryear at first a lion alone, and then a sun unaccompanied by a lion, and how subsequently the lion and the sun got together, from which time they jointly became the official emblem of the Iranian state. To write this little book, Kasravi examined inscriptions, old coins, and poetry anthologies as well as many books in Persian, Armenian, and Arabic (Kasravi, 1996e, pp. 15-55).

Kasravi wrote several pieces of this kind on a wide variety of subjects, including “The names of the towns and villages of Iran” (Nāmhā-ye šahrhā va dihhā-ye Irān, Kasravi, 2000). It was while he was on a mission to western Iran (1929) that Kasravi began, with his inclination toward etymology, to take an interest in the names of towns and villages. He asked the finance departments of several towns to extract from their registers a list of the villages that had been recorded and in this way gathered some eight thousand names. Then, by comparing them with their current names, he could explain the meaning of most of the names of towns and villages of the land. He published his findings in 1930. This is a most interesting work, even if it is not entirely error-free. Its originality lies in the fact that this was the first time systematic research had been undertaken by an Iranian on a subject dealing with the geography of Iran. Another reason that might have led Kasravi to pursue this line of research was the incompetence of a certain number of European orientalists in this area, since in this book he points a finger at their errors while at the same time criticizing the star-struck attitude of the Iranians of his time toward them. Kasravi attempted, as he himself said, to make the Iranians understand two things: first, that orientalists were not all at the same level of knowledge and competence. Among them are found great scholars like J. Darmesteter, Th. Nöldeke, J. Markwart, F. C. Andreas, and many others, but a goodly number of them were mediocre people whose work was unreliable. The second thing he wanted the Iranians to understand was that Oriental Studies was not the private domain of Europeans; Orientals could also engage in it if they entered on the same path and put in the same amount of work (Kasravi, 2000, p. 200).

In the course of his research on the Āẕari language, he came across an interesting point concerning the origins of the Safavids (1501-1736). The Safavid dynasty had always been known in Iranian history as descended from the Prophet (sayyed), even though, according to Kasravi, it was not. Nonetheless, the idea that this dynasty originated in the family of the Prophet was so deeply entrenched in history that even its enemies had never contested it. A goodly number of Ottoman historians who had told the story of the succession of wars between the Safavids and the Ottoman empire, and had never shown any sympathy for the kings of this dynasty, were silent on their origins. Kasravi shows that the Safavids became linked to the lineage of the Prophet after the death of their ancestor, Shaikh Ṣafi. During his lifetime he never claimed that the blood of the Prophet coursed through his veins, and no one ever considered him a descendant of Moḥammad. It was only after his death that his son, Ṣadr-al-Din, conceived the idea of linking himself with the family of the Prophet and, with the efforts and fantasies of his disciples, fabricated such a genealogy for his family. Kasravi also shows that Shaikh Ṣafi was a Sunni, whereas his great-grandson, Shah Esmāʿil I, proved to be a fanatical Shiʿite and persecutor of Sunnis. Furthermore, the Shaikh spoke Azeri, whereas these descendants adopted Turkish. According to Kasravi, the fact of claiming to be of the blood of the Prophet was a political instrument that the Safavids needed to win power, for at that period the Iranians venerated the descendants of Moḥammad. When Kasravi published his findings on the religion and origins of the Safavids under the title “Shaikh Ṣafi and his lineage” (1926-27), voices were raised against his views, but shortly thereafter, most historians of the Safavid period, whether Iranian or European, accepted them (Kasravi, 1996b, pp. 57-105).

Kasravi’s contribution to the historiography of Iran is manifold. As a historian, he traversed unexplored paths. In his quest to comprehend the past and render it intelligible, he was the first Iranian historian to have recourse to the knowledge produced by a wide range of disciplines. In his historian’s craft, he always informs the reader of his presuppositions, thus facilitating the critical examination of his work. Without questioning the political history, he warns the reader against the reductionism of the historians who wrote the political history of a period based solely on the reports emitted by so-called official chroniclers, that is, by the men who had contacts with the power of the period under study (Kasravi, 1996d, p. 196). The lasting value of his work is due not only to all the qualities of his writings of which we have spoken above, but also to his acute awareness of the craft of the historian that sparkles throughout the texts that he has left us.

For a comprehensive bibliographical survey of Kasravi’s works and works on him, see below, vii.

(Translated from French by Peter T. Daniels.)


Kasravi’s works on the history of Iran. “Tavāriḵ-e Ṭabarestān va yāddāšthā-ye mā,” Nobahār 13/12, 18 December 1922-25 January 1923; references to repr., Y. Ḏokāʾ, Kārvand-e Kasravi, Tehran, 1973, pp. 5-35.

Šahriārān-e gomnām, Tehran, 1943; references to Tehran, 1978.

Āẕari yā zabān-e bāstān-e Āẕarbāygān, Tehran, 1925; references to repr., Bethesda, Md., 1993.

Tāriḵ-e mašruṭa-ye Irān, in 3 parts, Tehran, 1940-42; references to repr., 17th ed., Tehran, 1994a.

Tāriḵ-e pānṣad sāla-ye Ḵuzestān, Tehran, 1933; references to repr., Tehran, 1994b.

“Dar pirāmun-e tāriḵ-e mašruṭa,” Tehran, 1937; references to repr., Čand maqāla, Köln, 1996a, pp. 207-16.

Šayḵ Ṣafi va tabāraš, Tehran, 1944; references to repr., Čand maqāla, Köln, 1996b, pp. 59-105.

“Tāriḵ-e hedjdah sāla rā čerā neveštam?” Tehran, 1939; references to repr., Čand maqāla, Köln, 1996c, pp. 223-30.

“Tāriḵ o tāriḵnegār,” repr., Čand maqāla, Köln, 1996d, pp. 193- 204.

Tāriḵča-ye šir o ḵoršid, Tehran, 1930; references to repr., Čand maqāla, Köln, 1996e, pp. 17-55.

Nāmhā-ye šahrhā va dihhā-ye Irān, in two parts, Tehran, 1929- 30; references to repr., Zabān-e pāk, Āẕari yā zabān-e bāstān-e Aẕarbāygān, Tehran, 2000, pp. 199-285.


See Supplement.


During the last five years of his life, Kasravi founded the “Society of Free Men” (Bāhamād-e āzādegān), announced his call for pākdini (pure faith)—born out of his sense of prophetic mission—and became the most outspoken intellectual against religious superstition and illusion. More specifically, he rallied against the role of the Shiʿite clergy in Iranian society and became one of the fiercest critics of some of the most sacred tenets of Shiʿism that he considered to be “un-Islamic.”

Historical context. Students of the modern history of Iran are presented with two distinctive religious reform movements since the mid-19th century. The first was begun by some disciples of Shaikh Aḥmad Ahsāiʾi and Sayyed ʿAli-Moḥammad Bāb (qq.v.). Later, those influenced by and close to Sayyed Jamāl-al-Din Asadābādi (see afḡāni, jamāl-al-din) used new religious concepts to challenge the established Shiʿite hierarchy as well as the social order. This socio-religious reform movement left two lasting legacies. One was the creation of the Bahai faith (see BAHAISM), and the other was unquestionable, though indirect, influence it had on the 19th-century Modernity Movement and early 20th-century Constitutional Revolution in Iran (see ISLAM IN IRAN xiii. MOVEMENTS IN 20TH CENTURY IRAN).

The second wave of religious reformism in Iran began in the early 1930s. It was influenced by the advancement of secular institutions in the post-Constitutional Revolution era and buoyed by policies of Reza Shah. Some reform-minded clerics began writing and speaking openly against the centuries-old superstitious beliefs and practices condoned or encouraged by the ulama. One such outspoken cleric was Moḥammad Ḥosayn Šariʿat Sangelaji, a well-known and respected mojtahed and religious scholar in Tehran (Jaʾfariān, 2008, pp. 348-50). Others joined Homāyun, a monthly religious and social magazine published in Qom by ʿAli-Akbar Ḥakamizādeh, son of a very conservative and well-known cleric, Shaikh Mehdi Pāyin-šahri (Sadr Hašemi, Jarāyed o majallāt IV, pp. 338-39).

The early call for religious reform. The first issue of Homāyun was published in October 1934, and one of its most outspoken writers was Aḥmad Kasravi. He wrote in the first issue that religion should become the foundation of everyone’s life, and one must challenge atheism as one of the greatest errors in the world and at the same time battle superstitious beliefs and erroneous religious teachings, which are themselves examples of anti-religious practices (Homāyun, 1, 1934).

Kasravi had begun his temperate critique of what he then believed to be superstitious practices that have influenced Islam in the first volume of Āyin in 1932. In Āyin, Kasravi appears as an intellectual who has questions about the proper role of religion in the fast changing world. He wrote Āyin at a time when secular Europe was besieged by political and economic turmoil with no clear outlook. As accomplished a historian and judicial expert as he was, Kasravi was a newcomer to the world of disparagement of established religious beliefs and practices and a novice in the movement to reform them. Nevertheless, he had developed a profound acrimony towards Shiʿite clergy from his personal experiences. He documented the many occurrences that had shaped his opinion of mullahs during the period 1900s-10s (Kasravi, 1990, pp. 8-16, 26-28, 35-38, 41-46, 79-85) and while serving as judge in the 1920s in Tehran and Zanjan (Kasravi, 1990, pp. 148-62).

A year after publication of Āyin, Kasravi published the first issue of Peymān, a literally and social monthly, which lasted for 7 years. From successive issues of Peymān, one can observe the gradual transformation of Kasravi’s views on religion and notice the gradual escalation of his dedication to religious reform. He wrote rather boldly that all discussion about Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim and other faiths had become an impediment to humanity and is all useless and nonsensical. He stated that God and the prophets were averse to these labels; Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, and Moḥammad were all emissaries of God, and one should accept them all as equal (Peymān 1, p. 258).

Revealing his prophetic mission. By the time Kasravi published Rāh-e rastegāri (The road to salvation) in 1937, his disapproval of the prevailing interpretation of Islam had become sharper, and his insistence that religion must be subordinate to rational thought (ḵerad) had become more noticeable. He wrote that the pathway of religion is separate from that of science, and the sciences have embarked upon a clear and open path toward progress; what mankind has discovered about the earth, sun, stars, and many other phenomena is clearly at odds with the imaginings of faith. He concluded that scientific discoveries have encouraged some people to presume that science will destroy the foundation of religion, but In Kasravi’s opinion, “scientific progress and ensuing knowledge, do not conflict with the essence of religion” (Kasravi, 1937, pp. 18-19).

After Iran was occupied by Allied forces in 1941, the downfall of Reza Shah and the ensuing openness of society and freedoms which did not exist before resulted in dramatic increase in activities of religious groups in Iran. Islamic schools, organizations, newspapers, and gatherings were tolerated, and within two years. Shiʿite clerics and fundamentalist religious organizations were at the center of Iran’s socio-political life (see ISLAM IN IRANxiii).

Kasravi was one the very few secular intellectuals who observed this development not only as a backlash against previous limitations, but as a significant impediment for what he believed to be Iran’s hesitant and timid modern secular institutions (Kasravi, 1944c). The resurgence of religious groups and the return of people to mosques and mass assemblies, where mullahs spoke with passion against symbols of modernity, attacking secular education, women appearing in public in Western clothing and without ḥejāb (see čādor), and the judicial system, was in direct contrast with the vision Kasravi had about the country he esteemed and cherished. He wrote to Prime Minister Sahāmal-Solṭān Bayāt, claiming that the government was in collaboration with mullahs. Referring to actions of the government in the previous three years, he argued that Radio Iran had become a clerical tool; as the religious forces gained influence and became more brazen, the radio had engaged in broadcasting rawżaḵᵛāni (rhetorical Shiʿite preaching on martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn). He predicted that soon they would transform the radio from a news and entertainment instrument to one that worshipers gather around to cry for the martyrs (idem, p. 11).

Shiʿite writers and clergy strongly condemned Kasravi’s criticism of their activities and demanded judicial authorities take steps to restrain his publications and curtail his activities. Rather than keeping quiet or lowering his rhetoric, Kasravi published a new book titled Ḵodā bā māst (God is with us) in the spring of 1942. He was no longer the mild-mannered religious reformer of five years earlier. He wrote that it is the clergy’s desire to dissuade people from paying attention to their life and livelihood by encouraging them to pray and seek absolution and listen to mullahs (Kasravi, 1942a, p. 7). He openly admonished the clergy for blaming women’s “un-Islamic” wardrobe and the moviegoing youth for famine and rampant inflation.

A few months later, in Dar pīrāmun-e eslām (About Islam), he became even more direct in his criticism of the prevailing religious beliefs. He wrote that there were two version of Islam—one that was established by that noble Arab man one thousand three hundred fifty years ago and lasted only for a few centuries, and the other that was practiced by people in Kasravi’s time. He argued that nothing was left of the original Islam and what was being promoted in the name Islam was an institution for the benefit of mullahs, from which people received nothing but colossal misery (Kasravi, 1943a, pp. 4-7).

It is evident from Kasravi’s writings during the final years of his life that his assessment of Islam, in particular Shiʿism and to some extent Bahaism, as not based on a desire to return to the origin of Islam and emulate the ‘forefathers’ (as advocated by salafi Muslims). Rather he upheld ḵerad (that is, reason and knowledge) as the most valuable faculty bestowed on mankind by God. But Muslims do not distinguish this faculty—which all should recognize and cherish as a part of a universal creed—as a God-given gift. Instead, they affirm the opposite by believing that the past was better than today, and the future promises no hope (Kasravi, 1943b, pp. 8-9).

A decade after Kasravi added “religious reformist” to his already impressive resume as linguist, historian, and jurist, he had become Iran’s fiercest critic of the established religion and its representatives. He went further than any other well-known religious reformer before him in modern-day Iran when he declared that the institution of Shiʿite clergy must be eradicated: should this institution survive, it would restrain the masses from progress as it had in the past. At a time when the world was witnessing a scientific breakthrough and people were striving for progress everywhere, the religious institutions of Iran and other Muslim lands would cause misery among the Easterners and keep them forever backward (Kasravi, 1943a, p. 40).

In Šiʿigari, he took the bold, and in the eyes of true believers, blasphemous step of questioning the Imamate as initiatory guide for Shiʿites. He challenged both the esoteric aspect of the Imams as well as their theological role. He challenged the centuries-old belief among Shiʿites that the Imams received inspiration and guidance from celestial beings as the prophet did (Kasravi, 1943b; Šiʿigari, ed. Amini, 2011, pp. 94-99, 102-4).

He also ridiculed the tradition of pilgrimage to the shrines of the Shiʿite Imams in Iran and Iraq (see ʿatabāt) and called it a decadent way to squander wealth (Kasravi, 1943b, pp. 150-52). He despised such self-mutilating practices as sina-zani (beating the chest), zanjir-zani (beating shoulder and back with chains), and qama-zani (beating the head with a dagger), which were common in Iran during religious mourning rituals (ibid., p. 182).

In Šiʿigari followed by Bahāʾigari (1943c), Kasravi left no doubts that he sought no dialogue with the most ardent proponents of the sanctified belief that the Twelfth Imam (Imām-e zamān) disappeared and will return on the Judgement Day. To him, it made no difference that Shiʿites believed that the Imām-e Zamān is yet to appear and Bahai faithful saw Bāb as personification of the absent Imam. Kasravi wrote that the entire concept of believing in an absent Imam was ludicrous, against reason, and therefore a hindrance to progress and enlightenment (ibid., pp. 138- 45). He saw no shortcuts or back roads toward a modern and secular Iran without an intellectual confrontation with some of the most sacred tenets of the dominant religious thinking (ibid., pp. 224, 233-34).

By 1944, Kasravi had become the focal point of the clergy’s agitation against all things secular and progressive. He was declared apostate and blasphemous and accused of planning to declare himself a new prophet (Serāj Ansāri, 1945; Nur-al-Din Širāzi, 1945; Āl-e Aḥmad, 1993, pp. 398-99). Although some have argued that his pākdini was tantamount to a new religion (Adibpur, 1945; Āl-Aḥmad, 1993, p. 42), he denied all such accusations (Peymān 6, 1940); he published Dādgāh in response to what he called lies (Kasravi, 1944a, pp. 23, 27-29) and continued this refutation to his death.

He did leave some room for such interpretation when he wrote in Ḵodā bā māst that he wished to rid the country of all separate faiths and unite people in one (Kasravi, 1942a, p. 7). In Payām be dānešmandān-e orupā va Āmrikā (Kasravi, 1942b, pp. 17-19), reiterated in Dar pirāmun-e eslām, he also wrote that it is God’s wish that from time to time a new divine movement will rise and a new prophet will appear to redeem people and explain the path for salvation to them (Kasravi, 1943a, p. 9). But, as Kasravi had articulated during his life, his ardent followers stated after his death that Karavi’s task was not one of prophecy or divinity but religious reformism and social change (Fazāʾi, 2003, p. 259).

Kasravi was not successful in provoking a lasting reform within the established religious orders in Iran. He was a religious reformist from outside the establishment. But he influenced many intellectuals and young activists during his life and long after his assassination in 1945 (Ārianpur, III, pp. 90-103; Nāṭeq, 1977, pp. 3-23).

For Kasravi’s bitter criticism of mysticism and Sufi literature, see below, vi. For a comprehensive bibliographical survey on Kasravi, see below, vii.


Works by Kasravi. Āyin, in two parts, Tehran, 1932 and 1933.

Rāh-e rastegāri, Tehran, 1937.

Peymān 6/4, 1940; references to Peymān 1, collected by Esmāʿil Marvi, Tehran, 2002.

Ḵodā bā māst, Tehran, 1942a.

Payām be dānešmandān-e Orupā va Āmrikā, Tehran, 1942b.

Dar pirāmun-e eslām, Tehran, 1943a.

Šiʿigari, Tehran, 1943b; all references to ed. Moḥammad Amini, Los Angeles, 2011.

Bahāʾigari, Tehran, 1943c.

Dādgāh, Tehran, 1944a.

Dah sāl dar ʿadliya, Tehran, 1944b.

Dawlat be mā pāsoḵ dahad, Tehran, 1944c.

Zendegāni-ye man, Tehran 1944d; all references to 1944a and 1944d are to new ed., in Zendegāni-e man; Dah sāl dar ʿadliya; Čerā az ʿadliya birun āmadam, Piedmont, Calif, 1990.


Taqi Adibpur, Tiša bar bonyād-e Kasravi (A cutting blow to the foundation of Kasravi), Shiraz, 1945.

Jalāl Āl-e Aḥmad, Dar ḵedmat va ḵiānat-e rošanfekrān, Tehran, 1993.

Yaḥyā Ārianpur, Az Nimā tā ruzegār-e mā, Tehran, 1997, III, pp. 90-103.

Yusof Fażāʾi, Bābigari, Bahāʾigari, Kasravigari (Babism, Bahaism, and Kasravism), Tehran, 2003.

Rasul Jaʾfariān, Jariānhāye mazhabi-siāsi-e Irān, Tehran, 2008, pp. 348-50.

Nāṣeḥ Nāṭeq, “Soḵanāni dar bāre-ye Aḥmad Kasravi,” żamima-ye Rāhnamā-ye ketāb 20/11, 1977, pp. 3-23.

Ḥāj Sayyed Nur-al-Din Širāzi, Kasr-e Kasravi, Širāz, 1945.

Ḥāj Mehdi Serāj Anṣāri, Nabard bā bidini: dar radd-e ʿaqāyed-e Kasravi, Tehran, 1944.


By the turn of the 20th century the Sufi tradition in Iran no longer enjoyed the popularity and following that it attracted in previous centuries. This was due to a number of factors, including modernizing and centralizing tendencies that increased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and several other competing worldviews. As a result, some of the leading intellectuals began the task of analyzing the role of religion in Iran, one of whom was Aḥmad Kasravi. This iconoclastic thinker published many works in which he identified the “evil teachings” of various denominations that had been, or were in his own time, prevalent in Iran, including Shiʿism, Bahaism, and Sufism (Kasravi, 1943).

Basing himself firmly in a tradition that emphasized the role of reason (ḵerad), Kasravi was one of the severest critics of Sufism. By the early 1940s Kasravi had written several short treatises in which he explained his opposition to Sufism and Persian Sufi poetry, the most important of which were Ṣufigari (1943, tr. 2006), Dar pirāmun-e adabiyāt (1943, repr. 1999), and Hāfeẓ čeh miguyad (1942, tr. 2006). These works were brief and of a populist nature, and lacked a sophisticated and analytical method. His method must be questioned, for in Dar pirāmun adabiyāt, Kasravi admitted that he had not read Rumi’s Maṯnawi, but had merely “seen bits and pieces here and there” (p. 85).

Kasravi was not the only critic of Sufism and Persian Sufi poetry in his time. In the modern period the opposition of some clerics continued the trend that has been present for centuries among “exoteric” scholars, and perhaps the most representative of anti-Sufi works were those published by ʿAllāma Abu’l-Fażl Borqeʿi ( just after Kasravi’s death). Aside from clerical opposition, Sufism was opposed by intellectuals, including Ṣādeq Hedāyat, ʿAli Dašti, and Taqi Arāni (qq.v.), who criticized the anti-social nature of Sufism and the tendency for Sufis to be charlatans who tricked their way to wealth and position. The general opposition to Sufism may also be witnessed on a wider geographical perspective, typified in the writings of the Indian reformer Muhammad Iqbal. During the first half of the 20th century institutionalized Sufism did little to assuage its opponents. Members of the Neʿmat-Allāhi order could not agree on a single authority or leader, and schisms broke out about the position of the qoṭb (“pole” or leader). Some attempts had been made to reform and modernize the order, particularly by Ẓahir-al-Dawla (Ridgeon, 2010) and the Anjoman-e oḵovvat (q.v.; however, the latter was tainted with associations of Freemasonry). Despite these problems, there was still some support for Sufism and Gnosticism (ʿerfān), particularly among the staff of the newly established Faculty of Theology at the University of Tehran during the 1930s, such as Badiʿ-al- Zamān Foruzānfar, whose editions of and writings on Rumi’s works became well known. Other sympathetic supporters included Saʿid Nafisi and scholars and politicians such as ʿAli-Aṣḡar Ḥekmat and Moḥammad-ʿAli Foruḡi.

It was in this context that Kasravi commenced his opposition to Sufism, although Nafisi has remarked that he did not originate the controversy. Nafisi claimed that in the decade after the Constitutional period (see constitutional revolution) Sufi poetry had been condemned in a newspaper called Zabān-e āzād, which caused a rejoinder in defense of the tradition by none other than Moḥammad Taqi Bahār (q.v.). Nevertheless, Kasravi’s public declaration of his opposition to Sufism and Persian Sufi poetry came in 1935, when he gave a public address at the Anjoman- e Adabi (q.v.). In his speech Kasravi criticized the tendency for Persian poetry to sacrifice the meaning for style. He praised some modern poetry that was socially engaged, but condemned verses that utilized allegory (especially some of the metaphors that were frequently employed by the Sufis). Although he refrained from attacking the major poets, such as Rumi, Hafez, and Saʿdi, it was clear that they were his real target, as he criticized similar mystically inspired poets who are generally considered of a lesser rank. Indeed, his views on Hafez, for example, were already well known, as he had discussed this subject in a series of articles in his newspaper, Peymān. Kasravi’s aim was to promote good habits, Iranism (Irāngarī), and Islam. In effect, his project was to advocate a rational form of belief which was centered on the nation and a reformed and sanitized version of modernist Islam, which bordered on Deism. Kasravi claimed that, as a result of his speech and refusal to make a public withdrawal of these views, he was denied by ʿAli Aṣḡar Ḥekmat (the minister of education) a teaching post in the newly established University of Tehran (Ḏokāʾ, 1973, p. hašt; however, his name appears among the Faculty of History during the late Reza Shah period; see Sāl-nāma-ye Šarq 1921, p. 131).

Kasravi’s criticisms of Sufism are detailed in his treatise Ṣufigari, in which he elaborated on six major deficiencies of the Sufis: the doctrine of the unity of existence, Sufi idleness, celibacy and sodomy, rejection of this world and despising life, Sufi understandings of love (ʿešq), and Sufi irrationality. His criticism of the unity of existence fails to appreciate the general Sufi perspective of balancing God’s incomparability (tanzih) with his similarity (tašbih), and instead Kasravi understood Sufism as emphasizing the unity between God and man and all of creation (vaḥdat-e vojud). Moreover, according to Kasravi, this unity between God and all of creation belittled the position of human existence in the order of things (his views contrasted with the Sufi argument that man is the greatest of all of God’s creations). The third criticism that Kasravi made of the school of the unity of existence is that Sufis of this school abstain from this-worldly pleasure. His argument on this point is a simplification of how such Sufis lived their lives, as it is known that Sufis, including Rumi and Ebn ʿArabi, were engaged in society, married, and had children. Rather than viewing this world with contempt, such Sufis viewed the world and everything in it as a place where God’s attributes were manifested, and it was a sacred place, which needed to be respected.

From an analysis of this first criticism of Kasravi, it becomes clear that his understanding of Sufism was superficial and that he had not investigated the doctrines of Sufis in sufficient depth. His subsequent five criticisms reveal similar simplistic argumentation. In fact, his opposition to Sufism, in essence, boils down to the fact that he viewed Sufism as completely irrational and other-worldly. For Kasravi, life in the modern 20th century world necessitated the application of reason and a commitment to the improvement of society and the individual, in other words, his was an ideology that conformed to the demands of modernity and the promotion of the nascent nation-state in Iran.

Related to his criticism of Sufism was Kasravi’s opposition to Western orientalists. Of note was his hostility to E. G. Browne, whom he accused of living for a year in Iran in Persian clothes in order to further his work—which does not appear to have been the case (Ridgeon, 2006, p. 218, n. 32). He argued that danger of the research and publications of the orientalists was that it promoted classical Persian poetry, which was full of the “evil-teachings” of Sufism. This poetry spread religious innovation (that is to say, it perverted “true” Islam, and promoted immorality, i.e., homosexuality and sodomy; it weakened Iran, because the European powers were able to brainwash Iranians into thinking that such poetry and its message were ideals to which the young should aspire. Kasravi had originally approved of Browne, as he seemed to be a champion of Iranian independence in the context of the threat posed to it by Imperial Russia. However, Kasravi remarked that it was Browne’s History of Persian Literature that changed his mind. Kasravi’s criticism of Western orientalists is contained in most detail in chapter six of Dar pirāmun-e adabiyāt. He briefly mentions Sir John Malcolm and Sir Henry Rawlinson and endorsed their work, as there was nothing within these writings that was detrimental to Iran or morally repugnant. However, Kasravi’s ire was kindled by the like of “Mister Arberry” and “Dr. [Margaret] Smith” because of their promotion of Sufism. But Kasravi was particularly critical of Browne because of his links with influential Iranians, including Moḥammad- ʿAli Foruḡi and Mirzā Moḥammad Khan Qazvini (q.v.). Kasravi claimed that such individuals wished to spread Sufism in Iran through editing and publishing mystical works.

Furthermore, he argued that the influence of Sufism was very strong even in the modern age, because “among the state employees and bureaucrats you can find many people who are dervishes, and each one considers himself a follower of this ‘Mast ʿAli-Šāh’ and that ‘Bahman ʿĀšeq-Šāh.’ Behind office desks are those in charge of people” (Ridgeon 2006, p. 65). Kasravi’s criticisms of the orientalists seem a little lame. When he criticized orientalists whose works are published in Persian and disseminated throughout Iran, he asked “Why don’t you write these things in European languages and spread them among Europeans?” (Ridgeon, 2006, p. 69). Of course, Browne, Arberry, and Smith did indeed publish their works in Europe, and it is difficult to witness any explicit hostility in their writings to Iran.

Another important treatise penned by Kasravi on the topic of Sufism and mysticism was his tract entitled Ḥāfeẓ čeh miguyad (“What does Hafez say?”) (Ridgeon, 2006, pp. 160-94). Kasravi’s writing on the topic must be viewed in the context of renewed interest in Hafez during the 1930s, when his tomb in Shiraz was renovated (see HAFEZ xiii), and a number of prominent scholars published works in which he was lauded. Most of the leading researchers of the day, including Foruzānfar, Foruḡi, Ḥekmat, and Qazvini and Ḡani (Ridgeon, 2006, pp. 28, 145) regarded Hafez as a Sufi, or at least a free-thinking mystic. The positive views that they held on such men of literature only assisted the bourgeoning discourse for the promotion of the modern nation-state. Kasravi, however, ever the iconoclast, considered Hafez a ḵarābāti, that is to say, someone who frequented taverns, enjoyed a hedonist lifestyle, considered the world meaningless and futile, and belittled reason and the intellect. Kasravi was not a naive commentator of Hafez, because he recognized that some interpreters understood his terms in a mystical sense and that many of his ḡazals included pejorative remarks about Sufis. This only led to Kasravi’s conclusion that Hafez was best understood as a confused individual who composed poetry that reflected a range of influences, including the Qurʾān, Iranian history, astrology, fatalism, and ḵarābātism. This was problematic for a thinker such as Kasravi because of his single-minded pursuit of modernism that held a social agenda for the improvement of Iran. Moreover Kasravi’s criticism of Hafez also was related to his generally negative view of poets who were not socially engaged, but simply spun poetry as a profession. Such poets were more concerned with perfecting the rhyme of the ḡazals than with providing a coherent and consistent worldview.

In conclusion, Kasravi’s view of Sufism and the Islamic mystical tradition seem to have been predetermined by his view that man must lead his life through the exercise of ḵerad. He felt that the Sufi emphasis on love (ʿešq) belittled ḵerad, and this explained why Iran had suffered so many disasters since the Mongol period, when Sufism had captured people’s hearts. Kasravi was not interested to contemplate the possibility that Sufism provided a degree of social cohesion through its rituals, enriched the spiritual lives of Iranians, and sometimes provided a means of security from tyrannical rulers. This is not to say that Kasravi’s views were completely without merit. However, his treatises were written in a populist style that targeted a general audience, which may explain for the crude, sweeping statements about the nature of Sufism. Although it is easy to criticize the content and style of Kasravi’s works on Sufism, his bravery in tackling such topics should be applauded, even if the conclusions that he drew seem somewhat pre-determined.


Abu’l-Fażl b. Ḥasan Borqeʿi, Ḥaqiqat al-ʿerfān, n.p., 1950s[?].

Yaḥyā Ḏokāʾ, Kārvand-e Kasravi, Tehran, 1973.

Aḥmad Kasravi, Šiʿigari, Tehran, 1943; tr. M. R. Ghanoonparvar as On Islam and Shi’ism, Santa Ana, Calif., 1990.

Dar pirāmun adabiyāt, Tehran, 1944; references to the 2nd ed., Tehran, 1999.

Hāfeẓ čeh miguyad, Tehran, 1942; tr. L. Ridgeon as “What does Hafez say?” in idem, 2006, pp. 160-90.

Ṣufigari, Tehran, 1943; tr. L. Ridgeon as “Sufism,” in idem, 2006, pp. 65-119.

Saʿid Nafisi, Ḵāṭerāṭ-e siāsi, adabi, javāni, Tehran, 2002.

Lloyd Ridgeon, Sufi Castigator: Aḥmad Kasravi and the Iranian Mystical Tradition, London, 2006.

Idem, “Revolution and a High Ranking Sufi: Zahir al-Dawleh’s Contribution to the Constitutional Movement,” in H. Chehabi and V. Martin, eds., Iran’s Constitutional Revolution, London, 2010, pp. 143-62.


Aḥmad Kasravi was a prolific writer. From the age of 25, when he began to write in Tabriz in 1915, until his assassination 30 years later in 1946, he wrote numerous articles and published some 70 books and pamphlets on a wide range of subjects from history and linguistics to social issues and religious reformism. Kasravi’s writings may be treated in four phases. First, in the period from the mid-1910s to the mid-1920s, he published textbooks for teaching Arabic in elementary and high schools in Tabriz, as well as articles on current issues in al-ʿErfān, a literary journal published in Sidon (Ṣaidā), Lebanon, where he also published a few pamphlets. The second phase is marked by the publication in the mid-1920s of his well-received, scholarly study on the ancient language of Azerbaijan, which he called Āẕari (Āḏari). This work established Kasravi as a prominent scholar and competent linguist in the scholarly circles of both Iran and Europe. The third phase extends from the mid-1920s to the end of the 1930s, when Kasravi published some 18 books and pamphlets on the history of Iran, including a number of valuable contributions such as his classical book on the history of the Constitutional Revolution (q.v.). Finally, in the period 1941-45, he entered into a new phase of prophetic mission, leading his sect of “pure faith” (pākdini), which was organized around his association, Bāhamād-e āzādagān. In this period, he rushed to publish about 40 pamphlets and short books on social and religious reformism, accounting for more than one-half of his publications (for a comprehensive annotated bibliography of Kasravi’s works, see Katirāʾi, 1972, pp. 365-98).

Following a treatment of the main categories of Kasravi’s works, this survey will deal with critiques of Kasravi’s works by scholars as well as his followers and adversaries, and finally an account of the works related to Kasravi in English.


Early works. Kasravi’s early writings were in Arabic. al-Najma al-dorriya (a textbook for teaching Arabic to his students, based on a teaching method used at the American Memorial School, where he was learning English), Tabriz, 1915. Ḵolāṣat al-naḥw (a textbook on Arabic grammar), Tabriz, 1919. al-Dorrat al-ṯamina (a textbook in Arabic etymology), Tabriz, 1919. “al-Loḡat al-torkiya fi Irān” (Turkish words in Iran), al-ʿErfān 8/2-5, November 1922. “Maqtal al-safir Āmrikā fi Tehrān” (The murder of the American envoy in Tehran), al-ʿErfān 9/1, September 1923. “ʿArabestān wa’l-Šayḵ Ḵazʿal Ḵān” (Khuzestan Province and Shaikh Khazal Khan), al-ʿErfān 9/6, March 1924. “Āẕarbāyjān fi ṯamāniya ʿašar āman” (Azerbaijan in 18 years), al-ʿErfān 9/10, July 1924. Qahva-ye Surāt (tr. of a work by Bernardin de Saint Pierre), Sidon, Lebanon, 1924 (for a detailed description of this work, see Katirāʾi, pp. 365-66). Ḥaqāʾeq ʿan Esperānto, published in al-Awqāt, April, 1925 in Sidon, Lebanon (see Kasravi, 1990, pp. 122-23, 240; apparently it was first published in the above journal and later in a pamphlet form).

Works on linguistics. Kasravi’s first major work was a concise book, Āẕari, yā zabān-e bāstān-e Āẕarbāygān (Āzari, or the ancient language of Azerbaijan), Tehran, 1925 (3rd repr., 1946; repr., Bethesda, Md., 1993, pp. 31-112). This survey of 73 pages, initiated an inundation of research and publications on a language named by Kasravi as Āzari. E. Denison Ross in a long review, “Āzarī or the Old Language of Āzarbāījān by Agha Sayyid Aḥmad Kasrawi,” published in The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1, 1927, pp. 148-57), considered it as “representative of that new spirit of literary and historical research which has only recently begun to manifest itself among the Persians, and which is deserving of all possible encouragement” (p. 148). According to Kasravi (1946, p. 2), it was also translated into Russian at the same time. The prominent Iranian scholar, Moḥammad Qazvini (q.v.), praised Kasravi’s scholarship and his finding in a review article published in Irānšahr 4/10, 1926, pp. 586- 94 (for a collection of Kasravi’s works on the Persian language, see Ḥosayn Yazdāniān, ed., Neveštahā-ye Kasravi dar zamina-ye zabān-e fārsi, Tehran, 1978). Kasravi next published Nāmhā-ye šahrhā va dihhā-ye Irān, (Names of cities and villages of Iran), in two parts, Tehran, 1929 and 1930. Zabān-e pāk (Purified language), Tehran, 1943.

History. The second major contribution of Kasravi was his works on history and historiography of Iran, including Qiām-e Šayḵ Moḥammad Ḵiābāni, written at the request of Kāẓemzāda Irānšahr (q.v.), in Ahvaz, 1923, and published in Berlin in 1925; new ed., H. Katouzian, Tehran, 1998. Šayḵ Ṣafi va tabāraš (Shaikh Ṣafi[-al-Din Ardabili] and his lineage), first published in the periodical Āyanda 2/5, 1927, pp. 357-65; 2/7, pp. 489-97, and then as a book in Tehran, 1944. Šahriārān-e gomnām (The unknown rulers), first published in three pamphlets, Tehran, 1928-30, and then as a book in 1943; repr., Tehran, 1978. Kār-nāma-ye Ardašir-e Bābakān (text in Pahlavi with Pers. tr.), Tehran, 1929 (first published as a series of articles in Armaḡān 8/2-3, 9/8-9, and subsequently published as a book; for details, see Katirāʾi, pp. 367-68). Tāriḵča-ye šir o ḵoršid (History of the lion and the sun [the national symbol of Iran]), Tehran, 1930 (for detail, see Katirāʾi, pp. 369-70). Tāriḵ-e pānṣad sāla-ye Ḵuzestān (Five-hundred-year history of Khuzestan, Tehran, 1933; repr., Tehran, 1994. Later Kasravi published a revised version of parts of this book as Mošaʿšaʿiān, Tehran, 1945. Tāriḵ-e hejdah sāla-ye Āḏarbāyjān (Eighteen-year history of Azerbaijan), in 6 parts, Tehran, 1934-40; later to be identified as volume 2 of the history of the Constitution, 5th ed., Tehran, 1971. Golčin-i az ketāb-e Plotārk (A selection from Plutarch’s book), Tehran, 1936. Tāriḵ-e mašruṭa-ye Irān (History of the Constitution[al Revolution] of Iran), in 3 parts, Tehran, 1940-42. This is the most famous work of Kasravi as a historian. It was reprinted several times in a single large volume; the 16th reprint appeared in 1983 with a long introduction criticizing Kasravi’s non-conspiratorial account of the Constitutional Revolution (see Ashraf, pp. 201-16). A translation of this work by Evan Siegel was published in 2006 (see below). Tāriḵ-e moḵtaṣar-e čopoq o ḡalyān, Tehran, 1944. Mardom-e yahud (Jewish people), of which only 17 pages had been written before his assassination in 1946. Peydāyeš-e Āmrikā (Discovery of America), Tehran, 1945.

Social and religious reformism. His works on social and religious reformism first appeared in the 1930s: Āyin (creed), in two parts, Tehran, 1932 and 1933 (for detail, see Katirāʾi, pp. 370-72); Qānun-e dādgari (The law of justice), Tehran, 1933; Rāh-e rastgāri (The road to salvation), Tehran, 1937. Kasravi’s preoccupation turned almost exclusively to the dissemination of his calling for Pure Faith after the abdication of Reza Shah in 1941 and ended with his assassination in 1946.

This period begins with publication of a meaningful manifesto titled Emruz če bāyad kard (What must be done today?), Tehran, 1941; followed by Ḵodā bā māst (God is with us), Tehran, 1942. Other relevant works include Payām be dānešmandān-e Orupā va Āmricā (A message to the scholars of Europe and America), Tehran 1942; Ḥāfeẓ če miguyad (What does Hafez say? [a critical assessment of his Gnostic poetry]), Tehran, 1942; Dar pirāmun-e Eslām (About Islam), Tehran, 1943; Dar pirāmun-e ḵerad (On wisdom) Tehran, 1943; Varjāvand bonyād, Tehran, 1943 (for details, see Katirāʾi, pp. 373- 74); Farhang čist (What is culture?), Tehran, 1943. Kasravi’s most critical works in this period are three books on Shiʿism, Bahaism, and Sufism: Šiʿigari (Shiʿism), became the most famous and controversial book on the dominant religion of the Iranian people, first published in 1943 and revised as Beḵᵛānid o dāvari konid (Read and judge), also as Beḵᵛānand o dāvari konand, 1944 (with commentary, ed M. Amini, Los Angeles, Calif., 2011); Ṣufigari (Sufism), Tehran, 1943; Bahāʾigari (Bahism), Tehran, 1943; repr. as Bahāyigari, Šiʿigari, Ṣufigari, Köln, 1996. Pendārhā (Thoughts), Tehran, 1943. His defense of Brigadier General Rokn-al-Din Moḵtāri, the police chief of Reza Shah, was also published in this period as “Defāʿiyāt-e Aḥmad Kasravi az Sarpās Moḵtāri va Pezešk Aḥmadi,” Parčam-e ruzāne va haftegi, 1942-43; repr., Paris, 2004.

Kasravi’s publications in 1944 (all in Tehran), include Dawlat be mā pāsoḵ dahad (Let the government answer us), a protest against the government’s religious policies and its lax treatment of the ulama (this letter was reprinted in Iran Nameh 20/2-3, 2001, pp. 327-40); Sarnevešt-e Irān če ḵᵛāhad bud? (What will be the destiny of Iran?), repr., Saarbrücken, n.d.; and Din o jahān, 3rd repr., Tehran, 1959, and Köln, 1998; Dar pirāmun-e adabiyāt (About literature [a critique of Sufi literature]); Kār o piša o pul (Work, occupation, and money [a critique of leftist ideas on the subject]); Dādgāh (Court of justice); Nahżat-e afsarān-e mā (The rise of our officers); Ḵᵛāharān va doḵtarān-e mā (Our sisters and daughters); Dar rāh-e siāsat (On the road to politics); Dar pirāmun-e jānavarān (About animals); Janāb-e āqā az meydān dar raft (His Excellency flew from the political scene); Dar pāsoḵ be badḵᵛāhān (Response to enemies).

Also related to his socio-religious reformism are three works of autobiography prepared in the midst of his leadership of a group of loyal followers in Bāhamād-e Āzādagān and his life and death struggle with the fundamentalist enemies of his religious reform movement in 1944 to bolster the morale of his followers against negative propaganda campaign: Zendagāni-e man (My life), Tehran 1944; Dah sāl dar ʿadliya (Ten years in the judiciary), Tehran, 1944; Čerā az ʿadliya birun āmadam (Why did I leave the judiciary?), Tehran, 1944. These works were reprinted in one volume as Zendagāni-e-man, Piedmont, Calif., 1990.

Kasravi’s works on socio-religious reformism in 1945 (all published in Tehran), include: ʿAṭsa be ṣabr če rabṭ dārad? (What is the relevance of sneezing to suspending action?); Badr-al-šariʿa šeʿr soruda (Badr-al-Šariʿa has composed poetry); Dar pirāmun-e ravān (About spirit); Dar pāsoḵ-e ḥaqiqatgu (In response to a so-called Truthteller); Ḥājihā-ye anbārdār če miguyand? (What do the Ḥāji warehousemen [i.e., hoarding bazaaris] have to say?); Ostād Rajab-ʿAli din yād migirad (Master [artisan] Rajabali learns religion); Šayḵ Qorbān az Najaf miāyad (Shaikh Qorban is coming from Najaf ); Angizāsion dar Irān (Inquisition in Iran); Emruz čāra čist? (What is the remedy today?); Az sāzmān-e melal-e mottafeq če natija tavānad bud (What can be expected of the United Nations?); Farhang ast yā neyrang (Is it culture or deceit?).

Magazines and journals. Kasravi published and served as the editor-in-chief of two papers from 1932 until his death in 1945. Peymān (first issue published on 22 November 1933) was a biweekly for the first month and became a monthly magazine thereafter. Ninety-six issues were published until early 1942, when it was replaced by Parčam in January 1942, initially as a daily (254 issues before all papers in the capital were shut down by Prime Minister Aḥmad Qawām [q.v.] for several months). Parčam resumed publication as a biweekly paper from March 1943, and 12 issues were published before it was shut down again by the order of the military governor of Tehran; it returned as a weekly for seven weeks from February to March 1944.

Kasravi’s works were also published in monthly-like compendiums, including Yakom-e Āḏar, Tehran, 1943; Yakom-e Dey-māh, Tehran, 1943; Bahm-māh, Tehran, 1944.

Posthumous publications. Following Kasravi’s assassination in 1946, a group of his dedicated followers published a number of his works and collections of his pamphlets and articles, mostly on socio-political or religious reformism, including: Bāhamād-e Āzādagān, Nik o bad (Good and evil), Tehran, 1947; Mašruṭa behtarin šakl-e ḥokumat va āḵerin natija-ye andiša-ye nežād-e ādami ast (Democracy is the best form of government and the final product of human intellect), Tehran, 1956; Enqelāb čist (What is revolution?), Tehran, 1957; Soḵanrāni-e Kasravi dar anjoman-e adabi (Kasravi’s lecture at the Literary Society), Tehran, 1964; Din va siāsat (Religion and politics), Tehran, 1969.

Yaḥyā Ḏokāʾ, Kasravi’s dedicated disciple, also published a number of Kasravi’s works, including: Nowruznāma, Tehran, 1947; Maqālāt-e Kasravi (Essays by Kasravi), 2 vols., Tehran, 1948-55; Kāf-nāma, Tehran, 1952; Zabān-e fārsi va rāh-e rasā va tavānā kardan-e ān (The Persian language and ways to improve it), Tehran, 1956; Čehel maqāla-ye Kasravi (Kasravi’s forty articles), Tehran, 1956; Fahang-e Kasravi (Kasravi’s dictionary), Tehran, 1957; Kārvand-e Kasravi (a collection of Kasravi’s 78 essays and speeches), Tehran, 1973. A number of Kasravi’s works were also published in collections: Pāk-ḵuʾi (Good character), Tehran, 1955, and Mā az farhang če miḵᵛāhim (What we are demanding from culture), Tehran, 1957, published by his followers, Mir Mehdi Moʾbed and Moḥammad- ʿAli Pāydār respectively.

A number of Kasravi’s followers also published anonymously a few of his works, including: Din va dāneš (Religion and knowledge), Tehran, 1960; Payām-e man be šarq, (My message to the Orient), Tehran, 1965; Pirāmun-e falsafa (About philosophy), Tehran, 1965; Tišahā-ye siāsat (Hatchets of politics), Tehran, 1965; Mā če miḵᵛāhim (What do we demand? [a collection of essays from Paymān of 1940]), Tehran, 1969; Bimārihā (Maladies), Tehran, 1969.


Selected books and essays by scholars and writers. There are numerous essays and a number of books and pamphlets on Kasravi by scholars and writers, including a number of articles published on Kasravi in a special issue of Iran Nameh 20/2-3, 2001, pp. 171-359. Others include: Yaḥyā Ārianpur, “Sayyed Aḥmad Kasravi,” Az Nimā tā ruzgār-e mā (Tāriḵ-e adab-e fārsi-e moʿāṣer III), Tehran, 2nd ed. 1997, pp. 90-103; and on Persian language, pp. 26-30. A. Ashraf, “Molāḥeẓāt-i dar bāra-ye enqelāb-e mašruṭa” (a critique of a long introductory essay by the publisher in the 16th reprint of Kasravi’s Tāriḵ-e mašruṭa-ye Irān, Tehran, 1983), Iran Nameh 23/3-4, 1999, pp. 201-16. Moḥammad- Taqi Bahār (q.v.), review of Tāriḵča-ye šir o ḵoršid, in Nowbahār and Ārmān, 1931; repr., Bahār va adab-e fārsi, ed. M. Golbon, 2 vols., Tehran, 1972, II, pp. 165-97 (Kasravi responded in Armān, 1931; repr., Kārvand-e Kasravi, ed. Y. Ḏokāʾ, Tehran, 1973, pp. 109-17). ʿAli-Reżā Ḏāker Eṣfahāni, “Kasravi va reformāsion-e dini” (Kasravi and religious reformation), Ketāb-e naqd 13, Winter 1999, pp. 264-85; ʿAbd-al-ʿAli Dastḡayb, Naqd-e āṯār-e Kasravi (A critique of Kasravi’s works), Tehran, 1978. ʿA. Eqbāl Āštiāni “Balā-ye taʿaṣṣob va bi ḏowqi” (The calamity of bigotry and lack of poetical taste), Yādgār 5/3, 1948, pp. 1-5. Hušang Etteḥād, “Aḥmad Kasravi,” in Pažuhešgarān-e moʿāṣer-e Irān, Tehran, 2002, pp. 1-349. Simin Faṣiḥi, Jaryānhā-ye aṣil-e tāriḵnegāri dar dowraye Pahlavi (The authentic trends in historiography of the Pahlavi era), Mashad, 1993. Rasul Jaʾfariān, Jariānhā-ye mazhabi-siāsi-e Irān, Tehran, 2008, pp. 120-29, 348-50. ʿA-R. Manafzadeh, “Panjāh sāl az qatl-e Aḥmad-e Kasravi gozašt” (Fifty years have passed since Kasravi’s murder), Ketāb-e noqṭa 3/2, Fall 1999, pp. 1-23. Idem, “Eṣlāḥgari āšti nāpazir” (Uncompromising reformer) Ketāb-e noqṭa 3/2, Fall 1997, pp. 24-73. ʿAli Moršedzād, Rošanfekrān-e Āḏari va hoviyat-e melli va qawmi (Azerbaijani intellectuals and national and ethnic identity), Tehran, 2001. Saʿid Nafisi, Ḵāṭerāt-e siāsi, adabi, javāni, ed. ʿAli-Reżā Eʿteṣām, Tehran, 2002, pp. 183-89. Nāṣeḥ Nāṭeq, “Soḵanān-i dar bāra-ye Aḥmad Kasravi” (Some thoughts on Kasravi), Rāhnemā-ye ketāb 20/11-12, 1977, Supplement, pp. 3-23; Nāṣer Pākdāman, Qatl-e Kasravi (Kasravi’s assassination), Uppsala, 1999; Jaʿfar Rāʾed, Kasravi Tabrizi, mard-i ke palang-e āramida-ye maḏhab rā bešurānid (Kasravi, a man who instigated the dormant leopard of religion), Ruzgār-e now 5/5, June 1986, pp. 39-47. Sohrāb Yazdāni, Kasravi va tāriḵ-e mašruṭa-ye Irān (Kasravi and history of the constitutional revolution of Iran), Tehran, 1997.

Selected books and essays by adversaries. Numerous critical, and often bitterly rhetorical, articles, pamphlets, and books were published in response to Kasravi’s influential work, Šiʿigari, which effectively challenged the main principles of Shiʿism: Taqi Adibpur, Tiša bar bonyād-e Kasravi (A cutting blow to the foundation of Kasravi), Shiraz, 1945; ʿAbd-Allāh Ātaškadi, Nāma-ye sargošāda (Open letter), Ahvaz, 1944; Nur-al-Din Čahārdehi, Wahhābiyat va rišahā-ye ān (Wahhabism and its roots), Tehran, 1984; Yusof Fażāʾi, Bābigari, Bahāʾigari, Kasravigari (Babism, Bahaism, and Kasravism), Tehran, 2003; Ruhollah Khomeini (Ruḥ-Allā Ḵomeyni), Kašf-e al-asrār-e hazār sāla, Tehran, 1944; Ḥāj Sayyed Nur-al- Din Širāzi, Kasr-e Kasravi yā šekast-e Kasravi (The defeat of Kasravi), Shiraz, 1945; Ḥāj Mehdi Serāj Anṣāri, Nabard bā bidini: dar radd-e ʿaqāyed-e Kasravi (Struggle against enmity to religion: On debunking Kasravi’s beliefs), Tehran, 1944; Idem, Šiʿa če miguyad (What does the Shiʿa say?), Tehran, 1946, 3rd ed., Tabriz, 1965; Sayyed Moḥammad Vāḥedi, “Tāriḵ-e Fedāʾiān-e Eslām az Šahid Navvāb Ṣafavi” (History of the Devotees of Islam according to Navvāb Ṣafavi), Tāriḵ o farhang-e moʿāṣer 1/2, 1991, pp. 7-41; Maḥmud Zarandi, Čand soʾāl az Kasravi (A few questions for Kasravi), Tehran, 1944. Also to be noted is a controversy of Kasravi and his followers with the Tudeh Party (see communism ii) members over his criticism of materialism and his views on the destiny of Iran: Jahāndār (a member of the Tudeh Party), Pāsoḵ be yek Irāni (Answer to an Iranian), Tehran, 1925 (this pamphlet is a response of the Tudeh Party to Kasravi’s Sarnevešt-e Irān če ḵᵛāhad bud? [What will be Iran’s destiny?], Tehran, 1925); A. B. Āzādeh (Aḥmad Barātlu), Pāsoḵ be pasoḵ-e Āqā-ye Jahāndār ʿożv-e Ḥezb-e tuda-ye Irān (Answer to the answer of Mr. Jahāndār, member of the Tudeh Party of Iran), Tehran, 1925; Kāršād (psudonym of Colonel Mortażā Ṭoluʿi, a member of the Tudeh Party), Āqā-ye Kasravi va mafhum-e materiālism (Mr. Kasravi and the meaning of materialism), Tehran, 1945. Moḥammad- ʿAli Emām Šuštari, Maktab-e Kasravi va māterialism dar pāsoḵ-e Kāršād (Kasravi’s school and materialism, in answering Karšād), Tehran, 1947; Parviz Šahriāri and M. Neʿmat-Allāhi, Aḥmad Kasravi yā nikḵᵛāhān-e tuda? (Ahmad Kasravi or well-wishers of the masses?), Tehran, 1947; Eḥsān Ṭabari, Āvarandagān-e andiša-ye ḵaṭā (Carriers of wrong ideas), Tehran, 1998.


There are a number of doctoral dissertations, books, essays, and book reviews in Western languages on Kasravi’s life and work or on certain aspects of his contributions.

Doctoral dissertations. There are three doctoral dissertations in English, German, and French: William C. Staley, “The Intellectual Development of Ahmad Kasravi,” Princeton University, 1966 (available at Google books); Edeltrud Jung, “Ahmad Kasravi: em Beitrag zur Ideengeschichte Persiencs im 20, Jahrhundert,” Albert Ludwig Universität, Freiburg, Germany, 1976 (available at Google books); Alireza Manafzadeh, Ahmad Kasravi: l’homme qui voulait sortir l’Iran de l’obscurantisme, pub. Paris, 2004.

Articles in English. Some sixteen articles, book chapters, and book reviews on Kasravi in general or on special areas of his works are available in English. The first article on Kasravi’s works in a Western language appeared in 1927 in a review of his Āẕari yā zabān-e bāstān-e Āẕabāygān by E. Denison Ross (see above). Other works on Kasravi began in the 1960s and gradually increased, including: Ervand Abrahamian, “Kasravi: The Integrative Nationalist of Iran,” Middle Eastern Studies 9/3, 1973, pp. 271-95; M. Reza Afshari, “The Historians of the Constitutional Movement and the Making of the Iranian Populist Tradition,” IJMES 25/3, 1993, pp. 477-94; Sohrab Behdad, “Islamic Utopia in Pre-Revolutionary Iran: Navvab Safavi and the Fadaʾian-e Eslam,” Middle Eastern Studies 33/1, 1997, pp. 40-65; James Buchan, “Clerical Errors,” in The Guardian, Friday 26 June 2009; Kamran Dadkhah, “Ahmad Kasravi on Economics,” Middle Eastern Studies 34/2, April 1998, pp. 37-59; Asghar Fathi, “Kasravi’s Views on Writers and Journalists: A Study in the Sociology of Modernization,” Iranian Studies 19/2, 1986, pp. 167-82; Idem, “Ahmad Kasravi and Seyyed Jamal Waez on Constitutionalism in Iran,” Middle Eastern Studies, 29/4, 1993, pp. 702-13; Mohammad Ali Jazayery; “Ahmad Kasravi and the Controversy over Persian Poetry 1: Kasravi’s Analysis of Persian Poetry,” IJMES, 4/2, 1973, pp. 190- 203; Idem, “Kasravi Tabrizi, Sayyed Ahmad,” in EI2 IV, 1978, pp. 732-33; Idem, “Ahmad Kasravi and The Controversy over Persian Poetry 2: The Debate on Persian Poetry between Kasravi and His Opponents,” IJMES, 13/3, 1981, pp. 311-27; Idem, “Kasravi, Ahmad (1890-1946), Iranian Historian,” in Encyclopædic Historiography of the Muslim World I, 2003, pp. 533-35; Abbas Milani, “Ahmad Kasravi,” in idem, Eminent Persians: The Men and Women who Made Modern Iran, 1941-1979, 2 vols., Syracuse and New York, 2008, II, pp. 946-50; Vladimir Minorsky, “Tārīkh-i pānsad sāla-yi Khūzistān by Sayyid Aḥmad Kasravī” (a book review), BSOAS 8/4, 1937, pp. 1172-75; Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, New York, 1985, pp. 98-105; Ruzbeh Parsi “Ahmad Kasravi (1890-1946),” in Almut Höfert and Armando Salvatore, eds., Between Europe and Islam, Brussels, 2000, repr., 2004, pp. 133-39; Iraj Parsinejad, A History of Literary Criticism in Iran (1866-1951): Literary Criticism in the Works of Enlightened Thinkers of Iran: Akhundzadeh, Kermani, Malkam, Talebof, Maragheʾi, Kasravi and Hedayat, Bethesda, Md., 2003, pp. 163-94; Lloyd Ridgeon, “Aḥmad Kasravī’s Criticisms of Edward Granville Browne,” Iran, 42, 2004, pp. 219-33. Idem, Sufi Castigator: Ahmad Kasravi and the Iranian Mystical Tradition, London, 2006.

Translation of Kasravi’s works. A number of full or partial translations of Kasravi’s works have been published, including one in Arabic and five in English: Ḥāfeẓ čeh miguyad, tr. L. Ridgeon as “What does Hafez say?” in idem, 2006, pp. 160-90; Payām be dānešmandān-e Orupā va Āmrikā, tr. Pishdad (Khan Bahador) as A Message to European and American Scientists, Tehran, November 1963 (as cited by Katirāʾi, p. 373); Šiʿigari (Shiʿism), translated into Arabic by the author himself, as al-Šiʿa wa’l-tašayyoʿ, Beirut, 1945, tr. M.‑R. Ghanoonparvar as On Islam and Shi’ism, Santa Ana, Calif., 1990; Ṣufigari, tr. L. Ridgeon as “Sufism,” in idem, 2006, pp. 65-119; Tāriḵ-e mašruṭa-ye Irān, tr. Evan Siegel as History of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, Costa Mesa, Calif., 2006.

(The bibliography of works in Persian from 1915 until 1972 is partly based on a comprehensive, annotated bibliography of Kasravi’s works by Maḥmud Katirāʾi, “Ketābšenāsi- e Kasravi,” FIZ 18, 1972, pp. 365-98. All works in Western languages and works in Persian published after 1972 are prepared by EIr. and M. Amini.)

Cite this page
Ali Reżā Manafzadeh, Moḥammad Amini, Alireza Manafzadeh, Mohammad Amini, Lloyd Ridgeon, EIr. and M. Amini, “KASRAVI, AḤMAD”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 02 December 2023 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_11056>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 20120501

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