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Biography of Ayatollah Sayyid Abu al-Qasim Kashani

Sayyid Abu al-Qāsim Kāshānī (b. 1885 – d. 1962) was an Iranian faqih and politician who campaigned against Britain in Iraq and had a role in the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry movement together with Mohammad Mosaddegh. The official holiday of the martyrdom anniversary of Imam al-Sadiq (a) was added to the Iranian calendar by Dr. Mosaddegh at Kashani’s request.

Born and Educations

Sayyid Abu l-Qasim Kashani was born in Tehran in 1885-86. His father, Sayyid Mustafa Husayni Kashani, was a religious scholar who died in Kadhimiya on June 18, 1919 and was buried in the shrine of Imam Musa b. Ja’far (a). He taught Islamic disciplines and preached in Tehran for years and since 1895, he moved to Najaf.

Sayyid Abu l-Qasim Kashani went to Iraq at the age of 15, and started learning Islamic disciplines in the Islamic seminary of Najaf. After studying the preliminaries, he started studying with scholars such as Akhund Khurasani and Mirza Husayn Mirza Khalil, and he became a mujtahid when he was young. He received permissions of ijtihad from prominent scholars and Shiite authorities such as Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi, Shari’at Isfahani, Dia’ al-Din ‘Iraqi, Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani, and Sayyid Isma’il al-Sadr. He established and administered a school, called “Nowin Alawi”, in Najaf. In addition to Islamic disciplines, other disciplines and sciences were also taught in this school, such as mathematics and military techniques.

His Scholarly Achievements

Some Shiite authorities and teachers of Islamic seminaries appreciated the scholarly achievements of Kashani, taking him to be a mujtahid. Some authorities, such as Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi, referred their followers to him with respect to their cautionary fatwas. Aqa Diya’ al-Din ‘Iraqi gave him a permission to narrate hadiths from him. Shari’at Isfahani referred to Kashani’s scholarly position in a letter and asked Shiites to acknowledge him. Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani wrote a letter about Kashani and expressed his high regards for him.

His Political Activities

Anti-Colonialist Campaigns

During World War I, when some cities of Iraq were occupied by British forces, Kashani tried to resist the occupying forces. Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi and Shaykh al-Shari’a Isfahani, who resided in Iraq, wrote letters to support Kashani, and some heads of nomads supported his movement. When peaceful ways for the independence of Iraq failed and fights between revolutionaries and British forces started, Kashani had Ayatollah Shirazi to issue a fatwa of jihad, and thus the movement spread throughout the occupied areas, and some cities and regions were freed by Muslims. Shaykh al-Shari’a Isfahani commissioned Sayyid Abu l-Qasim Kashani to go to Kadhimiya and found the “Islamic Association” for jihad.

Return to Iran

After the occupation of Iraq and ceasefire, the British military ruler of Iraq offered a bounty for Kashani’s arrest. Kashani concealed and then moved to Iran. So he might count as one of the first “Mu’awidin”, that is, Iranians who were expelled from Iraq. He entered Tehran on February 19, 1921 in the period of Ahmad Shah. Ahmad Shah welcomed and hosted Kashani in his bungalow and they negotiated about the exiles of other scholars. In 1925-26, Kashani became a member of the Constituent Assembly and voted yes for the establishment of the Pahlavi monarchy, and had no public political activity during Reza Shah’s period.

Arrest in Iran

When the World War II started and Iran was occupied by Allied Forces, the British spread rumors that Kashani had relationships with German forces and then decided to arrest him. After 5 months on June 17, 1944, Kashani was arrested in Gulab Darreh in Shemiran (part of Tehran). The British forces sent him to Arak’s prison (the winter camp) and then they moved him to a prison in Kermanshah. When Ayatollah Kashani concealed from British forces before his arrest, elections for the 14th Majlis of National Council were held by Suhayli’s government. People of Tehran elected Ayatollah Kashani as their representative. But Allied Forces rejected his credential and did not permit him to be a member of the Majlis. Finally, the World War II was over and Ayatollah Kashani was released on August 15, 1945 and then he entered Tehran and was welcomed by many people on September 22, 1945.

Elections for the 15th Majlis

On July 10, 1946, the prime minister, Qavam al-Saltana, announced the formation of the democratic party for the elections of the 15th Majlis in order to strengthen his position. The main mission of this governmental party was to send pro-Qavam representatives to Majlis. Ayatollah Kashani who was just released from prison opposed Qavam, and in order to attract people’s support, he went on a political trip from Tehran to Mashhad. He was welcomed by people in each city on his way and delivered thrilling speeches. In Semnan, people welcomed him very warmly and then departed to Sabzevar. There was a quarrel between Muslim workers and members of the Tudeh party on July 17, 1946, and Ayatollah Kashani was accused of causing the quarrel, and so he was arrested on his way to Sabzevar. The government issued an announcement and provided details of Kashani’s involvement in those quarrels.

Support of Palestine

On June 12, 1947, Kashani was released from the prison. His release coincided with the formation of the Zionist regime and the occupation of Palestinian territories. Since Kashani took the whole Islamic lands as his own homeland, on January 08, 1948, he asked people to congregate in Shah Masjid to support the Palestinian people. After that, he issued an announcement on May 18, 1948 asking people to gather in Sultani Masjid until Friday, May 21, 1948 to support the Palestinian people. In this congregation, Kashani and Nawwab Safawi gave speeches, and about 5000 young Muslims volunteered to go to Palestine and fight Israeli occupiers.

Opposition to Hazhir’s Government

When Hazhir was appointed as the prime minister in 1948, Kashani believed that he was appointed as a result of negotiations between the Shah and the Britain to solve the problem of oil and improve the power of the Shah. Thus after his prayer on Eid al-Fitr 1367 AH/August 7, 1948, he gave a speech against Hazhir’s government.

Hazhir’s government finally fell on November 18, 1948, and his 25-article bill of oil was dismissed.

Campaign against Razmara

The Lieutenant General, Razmara, was appointed as the prime minister on June 26, 1950 in order to extend and develop the concession of southern oil (the Gas-Gulsha’iyan Treaty). Following Kashani’s opposition to Razmara, Tehran’s bazaar was shut down and thousands of people gathered in the Baharestan Square to prevent him from entering Majlis. In order to prevent the approval of the oil treaty in Majlis, Kashani issued a statement addressed to people of Iran. However, Razmara ignored the views of religious scholars, representatives in the Majlis, and people, and insisted on the approval of the additional treaty of southern oil. Finally, he was killed by Khalil Tahmasbi, a member of Fada’iyan-i Islam, on March 07, 1951. The fatwa for killing Razmara was issued by Kashani.

Ayatollah Kashani and the Nationalization of Iran Oil Industry

The slogan of the nationalization of oil was popular among political elites, but Kashani made it popular among all people and tried to mobilize people for this cause. He issued a statement, calling people to gather in Shah Masjid on December 22, 1950 for the nationalization of oil industry. In this congregation which was organized by the Association of Mujahid Muslims, Ayatollah Kashani announced that people should congregate again at 3 pm, Friday Rabi’ I 13 / December 22, 1950 in Masjid Shah to take back oil from the enemies of Islam and Iran and nationalize the oil industry. Kashani called people to another congregation on December 29, 1950 in the Baharestan Square. He chose this square (which is near the Majlis) in order to support the representatives of the National Front and to warn representatives who opposed the nationalization of the oil industry. Kashani’s attempts to nationalize the oil industry were effective. In a telegraph, Dr. Mosaddegh wrote to Kashani:

Your endorsements and courageous attempts were always fundamental to the success of the Iranian nation in this historical campaign.

The Uprising of July 21, 1952

In July 16, 1952, Dr. Mosaddegh had a friction with the Shah over the administration of the Defense Ministry (that was controlled by the Shah) and thus resigned. The Shah introduced Ahmad Qavam as his prime minister. Kashani issued a statement in which he said:

Ahmad Qavam should be aware that he cannot officially announce the suppression of other views and threaten people to massive execution in a land taken by people out of dictatorship after years of hardship. I explicitly state that all Muslim brothers are obliged to do their best in this great war to show the colonialist politicians that their attempts to regain their previous power and dominance are doomed to fail… .

People’s uprising helped Mosaddegh to return to the position of the prime minister.

Kashani as the Majlis Speaker

Sayyid Hasan Imami, a pro-government clergyman, resigned from his position as the speaker of Majlis on July 22, 1952, and on August 07, 1952, Kashani was elected by members of Majlis as the speaker. Although he never attended the meetings of Majlis and, indeed, Majlis was administered by deputy speakers, his leadership declined in people’s view; a courageous anti-colonial leader turned into a simple bureaucrat.

Failure of the Movement and 1953 Coup in Iran

July 21, 1952 was the peak of power and unity for the Iranian National Movement, but disagreements among the leaders of the movement led to its weakness and failure. Despite the disagreements, when Ayatollah Kashani found out that there was a threat to Mosaddegh’s government, he wrote a letter to him on August 18, 1953 and informed him of an imminent coup by Zahidi. In reply, Dr. Mosaddegh wrote:

Your letter was seen by Aqa Hasan Aqa Salimi. I am supported by the Iranian nation.

On August 19, 1953, the United States launched a coup against Mosaddegh with the help of the Major General Zahidi. There are many controversies about the above letter. Some people doubt the authenticity of the letter.

Kashani and the Coup Government

After the coup, Kashani decided to travel abroad. One of his close companions announced that Ayatollah Kashani had already planned for a travel abroad or to a small city in Iran to rest and stop political activities and campaigns. He could not travel abroad and so he went to suburbs of Tehran. He entered Tehran for the Muharram month on September 12, 1953, and held meetings for rawda in his house. After the coup, the Shah tried not to engage in any quarrels with Ayatollah Kashani, and Zahidi tried to be respectful to him. Three days after the coup, Zahidi visited Kashani, but their relationship did not last long, and soon frictions between them began.

Objection to the Shutdown of the 17th Majlis

The friction between Ayatollah Kashani and Zahidi started because of the shutdown of the Majlis. Although Zahidi believed that the referendum for the dissolution of the 17th Majlis was against the constitution, he did not renew the Majlis after he took over the power. During the dissolution of the 17th Majlis, Ayatollah Kashani had opposed Mosaddegh and issued statements regarding the reasons for his opposition and the boycott of the referendum. He also opposed Zahidi when he broke his promises. Although the 17th Majlis had pro-Shah members, two-thirds of its members were advocates of the National Movement, and the renewal of this Majlis could prevent many wrong decisions made by the Shah and the government.

Elections for the 18th Majlis

The disagreement between Ayatollah Kashani and Zahidi culminated in the elections for the 18th Majlis. Zahidi’s government had plans to elect his preferable candidates in order to realize deals made behind the scenes with foreign countries over the oil. Ayatollah Kashani published an open letter to Zahidi, stating that

The government is planning for some preparations to carry out list-based and show elections for the 18th Majlis … if the government seeks to meddle in the elections, it will face tense resistance of the brave people of Tehran”.

When Ayatollah Kashani found his warnings ineffective, he issued another strongly worded statement, saying:

I have warned about resuming relationships with Britain and the issue of oil and suppressions of people’s rights, their freedom and the press by the government. Unfortunately, we see that the conditions of the country were never so catastrophic and worrisome. And there is no freedom except for the British agents. National press and journals have no way to express their beliefs and the truths … many nationalists and religious freedom-seekers are in prison. …

A Letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations

In February 1954, Ayatollah Kashani wrote a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations and criticized the suppression of freedom, censorship and show elections in Iran, accusing the government of inhuman actions, killing freedom-seeking people, innocent students of universities, workers in Abadan, imprisoning and exiling the opponents and hitting demonstrators.

Letter to the Shah of Iran

Kashani also sent a letter to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as “Your Majesty, Shah!”, reproaching the Shah with respect to the government’s illegal actions regarding the oil and elections, stating:

The responsibility of these actions carried out by the government is on your Majesty’s shoulders, since in the current circumstances in which there is no Majlis, the head of the government is your Majesty’s agent.

The letter irritated the palace and the government, and the government’s spokesman mentioned him condescendingly as “Sayyid Kashi”.


After a period of bronchial infection, Ayatollah Kashani died on Shawwal 7, 1381/ March 14, 1962. His corpse was buried in the shrine of ‘Abd al-‘Azim al-Hasani (a) after a funeral. Different ceremonies were held throughout the country for his death. On the day of his death, Ayatollah Gulpayigani, Ayatollah Mar’ashi Najafi, Imam Khomeini and Ayatollah Zada Burujirdi held a mourning ceremony for him in the A’zam Mosque of Qom.

About Ali Teymoori

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