On the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, our articles on the politicization of Shi‘a Islam

Last update: 2022-04-22 09:58:15

The last revolution of the twentieth century and the first broadcast on television, the Iranian Islamic Revolution marked the end of the Kingdom of the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and the triumph of Shi‘ite political Islam under the guidance of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. On the 40th anniversary of the event that reshaped the political and religious geography of the Middle East, we suggest some readings on Shi‘ism, Iran and the revolutionary discourse that followed the Revolution (from our archives).


How the Shi‘ite Clergy Entered Politics, by Rainer Brunner (19th June 2017). Shia Islam saw the role of the ulama grow uninterruptedly until a real hierarchy, dominated by the marja‘iyya, was created. After the Khomeinist revolution, this institution entered into competition with the office of the Supreme Iranian Leader. Today, it is at a crossroads.


That Time Suspended Awaiting the Imam, by Yann Richard (1st July 2011). Belief in the Occultation internalised the political failure of the early stages, that is to say the lack of government of the Muslim community, and led to a centuries-long exclusion of the Shi’ites from any form of hegemony. With the rise of the Safavids everything changed.


Something New from Teheran, by Forough Jahanbakhsh (12th June 2015). A discussion of how, in the last sixty years, there has been in Iran a transition from Shi’ite traditionalism to an indigenous religious and Marxist ideology capable of mobilising the masses up to the Revolution of 1979. And how, almost by reaction to the Islamisation imposed from above, a reformist discourse, minimalist in regards to the role of religion in the public sphere.


The Dissident Alliance Against Theocracy, by Ramin Jahanbegloo (1st December 2013). Secularism appears as a cultural force that seeks to guarantee the freedom of republican action in relation to divine sovereignty. Despite this, or rather because of the thirty-five years of theocracy, today it pervades the ordinary lives of the Iranian people, who are disappointed by the revolution and searching for new pathways.


Thirty Years of (not always Achieved) Ambitions, by Bernard Hourcade (1st July 2011). It was not Persian but Shi’ism that crystallised the unity of the modern State. And it was for this reason that the ousting of the Shah and the establishment of the Islamic Republic were able to base themselves on a tradition that is well rooted in national identity.


My war is holier than yours, by Farhad Khosrokhavar (1st July 2011). Following the fiasco of the secular nationalist experience in countries like Egypt and Iran, the radical components of each group have since the 1970s enjoyed great notoriety and exerted a notable influence. Their differing conceptions of jihad and martyrdom.


Shi‘ite Jihad: A Ceasefire until the Imam’s Return, by Mathieu Terrier (28th January 2015). Military jihad will return only at the end of history. And yet it is a battle that has already begun for all men, but some want to precipitate it.



Further readings:


Iran: the Origins of the Islamic Revolution, by Carlo Cereti


Rouhani Under Attack, but Iran Will Not Collapse, by Giorgia Perletta

Sunnis and Shiites: Their Differences and the Origin of an Ancient Divide, by Martino Diez


We, the Children of the Best Community. An Analysis of Hezbollah Founding Principles - Part I, by Dominique Avon


Military Victory... or Glorious Death. An Analysis of Hezbollah Founding Principles - Part II, by Dominique Avon


Hezbollah: From “Resistance” to Establishment, by Marina Calculli