Ayatollah Mirza Muhammad Hassan Ashtiyani, late nineteenth-century mojtahed who played an important role in the campaign against the tobacco concession of 1891 was born in 1832.
Like most scholars of the period, he received his higher religious training in Najaf, where his teachers were Sheikh Moḥsen Ibn. Khanfar, Sheikh Muḥammad Ḥassan Bāqer, and, most significantly, Sheikh Mortaza Ansari the great faqīh who was sole marǰaʿ-e taqlīd of the time. The closeness of Āshtīānī to Anṣārī is indicated by the fact that Āshtīānī acted as his scribe (taqrīrnevīs) and named his eldest son Mortażā after him. Having completed his studies at a date that cannot be precisely fixed, Āshtīānī took up residence in Tehran, and soon became one of the leading ʿolamāʾ of the city.
Sheikh Mortaza Ansari
Mulla Asadullah Brojerdi
Allama Sayyed Shafi’ Japelqi
Sheikh Muhsin Ibn Khanfar
Sheikh Muhammad Hasssan Baqir
Ayatollah Haj Aqa Hussain Qumi
Ayatollah Sayyed Abbas Shahroudi
Haj Sayyed Nasrullah Taqavi
Ayatollah Mirza Muhammad Shah-Abadi
Mirza Muhammad Qazvini
Sheikh Ali Akbar Hokmi
Sheikh Muhammad-Taqi Nahavandi
Sayyed Esmaeil Mar’ashi
Ayatollah Āshtīānī left behind four sons, the eldest and most important of whom was Sheikh Mortażā Āshtīānī (1281-1365/1864-1964). After studying in Najaf, Sheikh Mortażā settled in Mashhad where he attained great influence. He suffered a period of imprisonment during the time of Reżā Shah. Another son was Sheikh Moṣṭafā, known as Eftekhār-al-ʿolamāʾ. He played a role of some importance in the events of the Constitutional Revolution. Thus, in late Ramażān, 1323/November, 1905, he was instrumental in securing the destruction of a new building for the Russian Bank that was situated opposite the Madrasa-ye Marvī. The following year he was one of those authorized by the ʿolamāʾ who had emigrated to Shah ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓīm to negotiate on their behalf with the prime minister, ʿAyn-al-dawla. Sheikh Moṣṭafā was murdered at his home in Shah ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓīm in 1327/1909. His chief literary legacy was Efteḵār-nāma-ye ḥaydarī, a versified account of the battles of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb, written in the style of Ferdowsī’s Šāh-nāma. The third son of Ḥāǰǰ Mīrzā Ḥasan Āshtīānī was Mīrzā Aḥmad (1300/1883-?), a faqīh who spent most of his life teaching in Tehran and writing a large number of glosses and original treatises. The fourth son was Ḥāǰǰ Mīrzā Hāshem Āshtīānī who not only cultivated learned interests (although to a degree inferior to his brothers) but also entered political life, sitting in the third, fifth and eighth sessions of the Majlis. He died at the age of ninety-three, and was buried in Mashhad next to Sheikh Mortażā Āshtīānī.
When Mirza Hassan Shirazi, Sheikh Anṣārī’s successor as sole marjaʿ-e taqlīd, began from his place of residence in Samarra his campaign against the tobacco concession, it was therefore to Āshtīānī that he turned to act on his behalf in Tehran. In early Jomādā I, 1309/December, 1891, a fatwā began to circulate in Iran, attributed to Mīrzā Ḥasan Shīrāzī, which forbade the consumption of tobacco as long as the concession was in place. Āshtīānī lent his authority to the authenticity of the fatwā and assisted in its wide dissemination. Angered by the resulting boycott of tobacco, Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah addressed a threatening and angry letter to Āshtīānī, demanding that he withdraw his support from the boycott on pain of expulsion from Tehran. Āshtīānī was adamant in his stance and made preparations to leave the capital. When, however, news of his impending departure spread through Tehran, his house was surrounded on Jomādā II 1309/4 January 1892 to prevent him from being expelled and the whole city took on an insurrectionary aspect. After violent clashes in which a number of people were shot by government troops, Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah realized the impossibility of maintaining the tobacco concession and sent ʿAlī-Reżā Khan Sālār ʿAżod-al-molk to negotiate with Āshtīānī. The expulsion order was rescinded and gifts were offered, but Āshtīānī refused all conciliation, insisting on the abolition not only of the tobacco concession but also all other economic privileges granted to foreigners; the paying of blood money for those killed in the riots; and the granting of immunity to all who had been involved in them. All these demands were met, with the exception of rescinding concessions other than the tobacco concession, but it was not until 25 Jomādā II 1309/26 January 1892 that Āshtīānī—again acting on the authority of Mīrzā Ḥasan Shīrāzī—became fully convinced that the tobacco concession had been withdrawn and issued a proclamation declaring it permissible to smoke. Contemporary foreign observers suggested Russian involvement in the successful campaign against the tobacco concession (the concession having been granted to a British corporation), but the evidence is inconclusive. In any event, the chief interest of the episode is the way in which Ayatollah Shīrāzī and Ayatollah Āshtīānī led a closely coordinated and highly determined movement of popular resistance, prefiguring later and more significant uprisings and revolutions.
When Ayatollah Āshtīānī passed away on 28 Jomādā I 1319/12 August 1901, he was, in any event, mourned as one of the chief ʿolamāʾ of the capital, and his body was dispatched with great pomp for burial in Najaf.