Roots of The Islamic Revolution in Iran

Developing Just Leadership

Author(s): Hamid Algar

Publisher: Islamic Publications International

Published on: Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1421 2001-02

ISBN: 1-889999-26-1 (pbk.), 1-889999-27-X (hbk.)

No. of Pages: 178


by Hamid Algar

Revisiting words written or spoken in the fairly distant past in the present case, more than twenty years after the event — can be a sobering experience. All too often, the passage of time will be seen to have laid bare hasty or superficial judgements; provided alert readers with ample opportunity to focus eagerly on factual errors, major or minor; and mercilessly belied predictions, implicit or explicit, once made with rash and unseemly confidence. The temptation to undertake a thorough revision in order to efface all possible cause for embarrassment is strong.

The urge is particularly great, although resistible, in the present, for this is almost the first time I have been able to take editorial control of the text of four modest and extemporaneous lectures I delivered in London in the summer of 1979. With a single exception, none of those who subsequently published or translated the lectures communicated with me before going to press. They were first published in 1980 under the title The Islamic Revolution in Iran as a cyclostyled brochure by al-marhum Kalim Siddiqui, at whose invitation they were delivered at the Muslim Institute in London. They were then reprinted in book form, under the title Roots of the Islamic Revolution, by the Open Press in 1983, again by Kalim Siddiqui, who this time contributed a foreword and a preface. At a date unknown, Ansariyan Publishers of Qum — who are quite possibly the most voracious violators of copyright in the world, at least of Islamic books — produced another English edition, with no mention of the author's name, and the third chapter entirely excised, presumably because of their disapproval of Shari'ati. The book was twice translated into Persian, once by the Sipah-i Pasdaran-i Inqilab-i Islami (The Corps of Guards of the Islamic Revolution), probably in 1980, and once by Murtaza As'adi and Hasan Chizari in 1981.1 The text of the second lecture appeared in Indonesian translation in 1984.2 A Turkish version, prepared by M. Cetin Demirhan, appeared in Istanbul in 1988.3 The book is also reported to have been translated into Bengali, although no copy has ever reached my hands. A French translation of extracts from the lectures, duly reviewed by myself, appeared in the review le debat in 1981.4

This history of publication testifies not so much to the excellence or profundity of the text, as to the paucity of informed reportage and analysis of the Islamic Republic, particularly during its early years, and the interest and enthusiasm it generated among many Muslims who were anxious to learn something of its historical roots. At a time when the revolution was being widely depicted as a misguided affair of mass retrograde confusion, bound to collapse in the face of internal division and leftist intrigue, my presentation of a few simple and positive facts concerning its nature, origins, and rooting in Iranian history, was experienced by many as a welcome and reassuring corrective. Particularly in the revised form now being presented to the reader, these lectures may still serve as a useful summary description of the forces that led to revolution and the historical background of that signal event.

I have taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by this republication to make corrections of fact and modifications of judgement, sometimes in the text and sometimes in the form of footnotes. Some of these changes I would have made twenty years ago, if the transcript of my lectures had been forwarded to me for revision in advance of publication; others derive from the corrective notes appended to the Persian translations mentioned above; and still others have been suggested by the passage of time and the course of events. I have retained, although in some cases modified, the text of the question and answer sessions that followed each lecture, for they, like the lectures themselves, reflect the anxieties, hopes and uncertainties present in many minds during those early months. On the other hand, I have suppressed the names of those posing the questions, for they may not wish to remain permanently linked to queries and observations spontaneously made two decades ago. Exception is made only of Kalim Siddiqui, who organised the lectures and chaired the sessions at which they were presented. I have also taken the liberty of curtailing the laudatory remarks with which he closed the final session.

Throughout the text I have substituted the title "Imam" for "Ayatullah" when referring to the leader of the Islamic Revolution as a more adequate indication of the role that he played (for the precise significance of the title as applied to him, see p. 78). The title Roots of the Islamic Revolution, given to the second English edition and reflected in the Turkish translation, was chosen by Kalim Siddiqui; if I had been consulted on the matter, I would have opted for something more modest. It goes without saying that the "roots" of so complex a phenomenon as a revolution, insofar as they are discernible, cannot be adequately identified in a little more than one hundred pages. I have nonetheless decided to retain the title in order to prevent the impression that the present book is an entirely original work. The choice of title is, moreover, marginally defensible in that the book can count as a preliminary essay in uncovering those roots.

Finally, I have supplemented the work with fresh translations from the writings both of Imam Khomeini and of Dr. Shari'ati. Although illustrating the difference in tone and depth of understanding between the two personalities, these translations also suggest the urgent desire for Islamically-inspired change that was common to both of them and provided the motive force for that greatest event of contemporary Islamic history, the Islamic Revolution of Iran.

Hamid Algar
Berkeley, Dhu'l Qia'da 1421/February 2001


  1. Iran va Inqilab-i Islami, Tehran: Intisharat-i Sipah-i Pasdaran-i Inqilab-i Islami, n.d.; Inqilab-i Islami dar Iran, Tehran: Intisharat-i Qalam, 1360 Sh./1981. Neither of the translations was free of error, although both were accompanied by criticisms of some of my statements, justifiably in a few cases.
  2. "Khomeini Penjelmaan Sebuah Tradisi," in Gerbang Kebangkitan: Revolusi Islam dan Khomeini dalam Perbincangan, Yogyakarta: Shalahuddin Press, 1984, pp. 203-249.
  3. Islam Devriminin Kokleri, Istanbul: Isaret Yayinlari, 1988.
  4. "Sources et figures de la revolution islamique en Iran," le debat, 14 (July- August, 1981), pp. 54-76. The same extracts were reprinted in Pierre Nora, ed., Islam et politique au proche-orient, Paris: Gallimard, 1991, pp. 210-255.
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