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May 06, 2023
By Bassam Michael Madany



Bassam Michael Madany

10 February 2023

The 31 January 2023 issue of the Wall Street Journal carried this headline:  

         “Iran’s Deadly Street Protests Are Replaced by Quiet Acts of Rebellion.”

It began, “Four months after a nationwide uprising erupted in Iran, a lethal crackdown and an ailing economy have quieted antigovernment street demonstrations.”

Whether the quieting of the “antigovernment street demonstrations” will last, only time would tell. In this article, I explain how the Eschatology (End-Times beliefs) of the Iranian Religious authorities, provides them with an inflexible steering of the governance of the country at this crucial time in Iran’s history. This would mark the first time in the History of Islam, when the religious establishment took over the reins of government.

From its beginnings, Islam became a State whose leader was prophet, legislator, and ruler. Muhammad didn’t leave any instructions regarding the leadership of the Islamic Umma after his passing. Some of his close associates, rushed to choose Abu Bakr as the First Caliph in 632 AD. After his death in 634, Umar succeeded him. His rule lasted ten years, during which the Islamic Futuhat (Conquests) began. After his assassination in 644, Uthman became Caliph. He collected manuscripts of the Qur’an; chose one as a Textus Receptus and sent copies to several Islamic-occupied territories. Uthman’s caliphate was riddled with controversies, which led to his assassination in 656.

Ali (cousin and a son-in-law of Muhammad) assumed the Caliphate in 656. However, Muawiya, the governor of Syria contested the election of Ali, leading to war between the two men. When Ali accepted arbitration between the two factions, some of his followers rebelled and murdered him in 661. Muawiya assumed the role of Caliph and founder of the Umayyad Dynasty, with Damascus as its capital. It lasted for nearly 100 years, during which Islam spread from India in the east to Spain in the west.

Ali’s followers, known as these Shi’ites (partisans) refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Umayyad Caliphate. Ali had two sons by Fatima (daughter of Muhamad,) Hasan and Husain. Hasan declined to assume the role of the Shi’ite leadership, leaving the position to his brother Husain. In 680, he moved to Kufa in Iraq to reclaim the Caliphate. He was defeated and massacred at the Battle of Karbala, on 10 October 680 (10 Muharram 61 AH)

From this point on, the Shi’ites would become an underground opposition movement. Husain and his descendants carried the title of Imam. (In Sunni Islam, an Imam is simply the leader of a mosque, in charge of the daily and weekly Salaats (worship services.)

The Umayyad Caliphate was challenged by the Abbasids who defeated them in 750. The blood bath that followed resulted in the extermination of every member of the Umayyads. One member managed to flee to Al-Andalus (Spain,) where he began a rival Islamic caliphate.

The Abbasids were descendants of an uncle of Muhammad. It was during their Caliphate that the Arab Islamic civilization flourished. Baghdad became the capital of the Abbasids, translation of works from Persian, Aramaic, and Greek sources was accomplished at the House of Wisdom. The Four Schools for the Interpretation of the Islamic Shariah were founded; the Sirat Muhammad (Life of the Prophet) was composed, first by Ibn Is’haq, and revised by Ibn Hisham. The initiative for all these accomplishments came from the Caliphs.

An intellectual group known as the Mu’tazilites appeared on the scene and discussed doctrinal and philosophical issues. A major theological topic was the Qur’an’s createdness. When Imam Hanbal preached the uncreatedness of the Qur’an, the contemporary Caliph Al-Ma’moon imprisoned him. That precipitated an event known as Mihnat al- Qur’an (the Ordeal of the Qur’an!)

Following the Mongolian advance and the destruction of Baghdad in 1258, the Abbasid Caliphate had reached its twilight. Eventually, the Sunni Caliphate was assumed by the Ottoman Turks; it lasted until the early years of the 20th century. Rival Shi’ite caliphates arose in Egypt under the Fatimites, from 969 to 1171. Persia that had followed Sunni Islam for centuries, underwent a radical change in 1501, when Ismail I, the first Shah of the Safavid Dynasty (1601–1722), captured Tabriz and proclaimed Twelver Shi’ism to be the faith of his new realm.

The Twelvers believe that, at the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, the spiritual-political leadership of the Islamic Umma, was to pass down to Ali, and to ʿAlī’s son Husain and to other Imams (leaders) down to the 12th. He was born around 870, and went into occultation, (a state of concealment by God) in 874. This Hidden Imam is still alive and bears the title of Mahdi. Upon his return, he will inaugurate an era when the Twelver Shi’ism would be the dominant faith in Islam.  

It becomes clear from a review of Islamic history that the state played an exclusive role in all the decisions that impacted Muslim society. Beginning with Uthman’s choice of the official manuscript of the Qur’an, to Al-Mamoon’s standing for the createdness of the Qur’an. It was the Fatimites rulers who imposed Shi’ism on Egyptians and founded the University Mosque of Al-Azhar.

Things changed drastically during the Ayyubid Dynasty’s occupation of Egypt (1171-1250.) Egypt was reintegrated into the Sunni world, with Al-Azhar University Mosque becoming a bastion of Sunni Islam.

Early in the 16th century, Egypt with the rest of the Middle East, were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire that played the role of defender of Sunni Islam. During the 19th century, the Ottomans had to deal with the Wahhabis, a fundamentalist Islamic movement in Arabia. Aided by the Saudi tribe, the Wahhabis captured Mecca that had been under Ottoman control. Gradually, the Saudis extended their rule over Arabia. While Wahhabi Islam continued to be the official faith of the kingdom, political, economic, and social issues; remained in the hands of the House of Saud.  Saudi Arabia in the Third Millennium is drastically different from the 1930s! Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has initiated several reforms — concerts, movie theaters, and a permission for women driving cars, without a male chaperon! The impetus for change and modernization in Saudi Arabia came from the governing authorities, and not from the Wahhabi establishment who have been the custodians of “authentic” Islam.

It is evident that a modus operandi that had lasted for 1400 years, namely the primacy of the state in governance, was broken when Ayatollah Khomeini became the religious and political leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a religious establishment professing the Eschatology of Twelver Shi’ism took over the reins of governance in Tehran, they claim their authority is derived from the infallible Mahdi. This led the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran to become intransigent, in their response to the ongoing Intifada of the young generation of Iranii


i Iranian Youth is the largest population bloc in Iran. Over 60 percent of Iran’s 80 million people are under 30 years old. Iranian youth are among the most politically active in the 57 nations of the Islamic world. As the most restive segment of Iranian society, the young also represent one of the greatest long-term threats to the current form of theocratic rule.

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