MARCH 26, 2012: Qom, the Howzeh and Revolution
Iran is a majority Shi’ite country, which has important implications. The people in
Iran recognize to varying extents that temporal religious authority is something
that is exclusive to the Imams. They also have to believe that the Imams are no
longer there, which is sort of paradoxical. The religious authority and legal
authority amongst Shi’ite Muslims has to rest with something other that the Imams
to stand in their place and direct the lives of Iranians. This means that the “uluma”
have taken this role in Iran (just in the lives of the Shi’ites).
Who are the uluma?
Qom is Iran’s Shrine City
Fatima Ma’suma (died 816) in Qom was the sister of the Ali Raza Shah
Pilrimiges have beenvery important to Shi’ites. The most famous shrines are
actually in Iraq, not Iran (Najaf, Karbala, Samarra, and Kazimiya). These are where
some of the most famous Imams were buried.
Mantle of the Prophet: Ali Hashemi’s description of his visit to the Shrine of Fatima
Ma’suma was portrayed as very emotional and it seems that he believes he doesn’t
do as a learned man in his adulthood. This is not the case for everyone, and many
adults visit the shrine. (page 22-24)
The shrines bring pilgrims and extraordinary amounts of money to Qom. Shrine
cities (like the atabat of Iraq) also bring “corpse traffic” because people want to be
People buried at Qom are Fatima Ma’suma, and the close you are to her and to the
middle the most wealthy and well off you are. Even the kings (who were not all
religious) would pay a lot of money to be buried in the Shrines.
It acknowledges their authorities as the leaders of the community after
Mohammed, and to extend the believing between the citizens and him Imam. The
visitation is also aimed at preserving the collective Shi’ite memory and identity as
distinct from the Sunnis. Especially in times of strike, the visits substituted from
visits to Mecca.
There are also political and economic consequences of living in a shrine city aside
from the religious ones. During the reigns of late 19 century kings Fath’Ali Khan
(r. 1797-1834) and Nasser al-Din Shah (r. 1848-1896), Qom becomes the home of
the pious largess- they gave lots of money to the learned men, the city, and people
who lived in the city, which made Qom a very lively place. After the Qajar shahs
declared themselves commanders of the faithful and protectors of the Qur’an.
o Qom’s financial well-being is dependent on the expenditures of Iranian
o Iranian state encourages pilgrimage to Qom and Mashad rather the atabat
in Iraq during the many periods of tension between Iran and Iraq
o Shrine-city status meant the absence of military presences
o Qom and bast, or sanctuary- vagabonds could go seeking sanctuary, and the
temporal authorities cannot touch you in there.
o Qom’s proximity to Tehran and the rise of the state in Iran- Qom became
consistently well patronized, and the Shahs of the time were generous,
which is not always appreciated.
Qom and the Ulema:
Possible factors contributing to the rise of Qom, as the preeminent city of the
traditional Shi’ite learning is interesting because this is usual reserved for urban centres, and Qom was not and has never been an urban centre. The traditional
urban centres decline pretty substantially. The rise of Shi’ism as the state religion in
Iran played a role in this. The fluctuations reflected changes in jurisprudence, the
flow of funds and students, the policies of Sunni and Shi’ite government, and water
supply. No place was immune to loss of importance of complete decline. Qom has
canals, and everytime they would break down Qom would become practically a
desert, and when a leader fixed them it would become lively again. Its status and
learned city and shrine city becomes stabilized when the state becomes stabilized
and the power grew. The state became powerful, wealthy, and the state was willing
to appear pious to those it is ruling.
Qom and the Qajars- It is only in the Qajar period (1785-1905 or 1925) that Qom,
which had for centuries been one of Iran’s most important Shrine cities, because