The Persian Tobacco Protest (Persian: نهضت تنباکو nehzat-e tanbāku) was a Shia Muslim revolt in Iran against an 1890 tobacco concession granted by Nasir al-Din Shah of Persia to the United Kingdom, granting British control over growth, sale and export of tobacco. The protest was held by Tehran merchants in solidarity with the clerics. It climaxed in a widely obeyed December 1891 fatwa against tobacco use issued by Grand Ayatollah Mirza Hassan Shirazi.
Beginning in the 19th century, the Qajar dynasty found itself in a precarious situation due to an increasing foreign presence within Iran. Reeling from defeats in wars against Imperial Russia in 1813 and 1828, as well as the British Empire in 1857, not only was the Qajar government forced to grant countless concessions to foreign powers, but Iranian bazaaris (merchants) were left in a highly vulnerable position as they were unable to compete with the numerous economic advantages gained by merchants from Europe.According to the accounts of foreigners living in Iran at the time, the Qajar dynasty was highly unpopular among the populace and was perceived as having little concern for the welfare of its subjects. Later accounts by British eyewitnesses suggest that the reason why the dynasty had not been overthrown sooner in the face of widespread discontent was due to British and Russian intervention that essentially propped up the shah.
In 1872, Nasir al-Din Shah negotiated a concession with Baron Julius de Reuter, a British citizen, granting him control over Persian roads, telegraphs, mills, factories, extraction of resources, and other public works in exchange for a stipulated sum for five years and 60% of all the net revenue for 20 years. The Reuter concession was met with not only domestic outrage in the form of local protests, but also opposition from the Russian government.Under immense pressure, Nasir al-Din Shah consequently canceled the agreement despite his deteriorating financial situation. While the concession lasted for approximately a year, the debacle set the foundation for the revolts against the tobacco concession in 1890 as it demonstrated that any attempt by a foreign power to infringe upon Iranian sovereignty would infuriate the local population as well as rival European powers.
On 20 March 1890, Nasir al-Din Shah granted a concession to Major G. F. Talbot for a full monopoly over the production, sale, and export of tobacco for fifty years. In exchange, Talbot paid the shah an annual sum of £15,000 (present-day £1.845 million; $2.35 million) in addition to a quarter of the yearly profits after the payment of all expenses and a dividend of 5 percent on the capital. By the fall of 1890 the concession had been sold to the Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia, a company which some have speculated was essentially Talbot himself as he heavily promoted shares in the corporation.At the time of the concession, the tobacco crop was valuable not only because of the domestic market but because Iranians cultivated a variety of tobacco "much prized in foreign markets" that was not grown elsewhere. A Tobacco Régie (monopoly) was subsequently established and all the producers and owners of tobacco in Persia were forced to sell their goods to agents of the Régie, who would then resell the purchased tobacco at a price that was mutually agreed upon by the company and the sellers with disputes settled by compulsory arbitration.
At the time, the Persian tobacco industry employed over 200,000 people and therefore the concession represented a major blow to Persian farmers and bazaaris whose livelihoods were largely dependent on the lucrative tobacco business.Now they were forced to seek permits from the Tobacco Régie as well as required to inform the concessionaires of the amount of tobacco produced. In essence the concession not only violated the long-established relationship between Persian tobacco producers and tobacco sellers, but it also threatened the job security of a significant portion of the population.
In September 1890, the first resounding protest against the concession manifested, however it did not emerge from the Persian merchant class or ulema but rather from the Russian government who stated that the Tobacco Régie violated freedom of trade in the region as stipulated by the Treaty of Turkmanchai.Despite disapproval from the Russian Empire concerning the monopoly, Nasir al-Din Shah was intent on continuing on with the concession. In February 1891 Major G. F. Talbot traveled to Iran to install the Tobacco Régie and soon thereafter the shah made news of the concession public for the first time, sparking immediate disapproval throughout the country. Despite the rising tensions, director of the Tobacco Régie Julius Ornstein arrived in Tehran in April and was assured by Prime Minister Amin al-Sultan that the concession had the full support of the Qajar dynasty. In the meantime, anonymous letters were being sent to high members of the Qajar government while placards were circulating in cities such as Tehran and Tabriz, both displaying public anger towards the granting of concessions to foreigners.
During the spring of 1891, mass protests against the Régie began to emerge in major Iranian cities. Initially it was the bazaaris who led the opposition under the conviction that it was their income and livelihood which were at stake. Affluent merchants such as Hajj Mohammad Malek al-Tojjar played a vital role in the tobacco movement by organizing bazaari protests as well as appealing to well known mujtahids for their support in opposing the Régie.The ulema proved to be a highly valuable ally of the bazaari as key religious leaders sought to protect national interests from foreign domination. For centuries the ulema played a paramount role in Iranian society – they ran religious schools, maintained the charity of endowments, acted as arbiters and judges, and were seen as the intermediaries between God and Shia Muslims in the country. Hence if such exorbitant concessions were given to non-Muslim foreigners, the ulema believed that the national-religious community under their supervision would be severely threatened. Furthermore, the ulema had ties with various merchant families and guilds while holding an economic interest in tobacco that was grown on waqf land. Finally, as the clergy pointed out, the concession directly contradicted Islamic law because individuals were not allowed to purchase or sell tobacco under their own free will and were unable to go elsewhere for business. Later during the tobacco harvest season of 1891, tobacco cultivator Mahmud Zaim of the Kashan region coordinated with Iran's two other major tobacco cultivators a burning of their entire stock.
The cities of Shiraz, Tehran, and Tabriz would subsequently develop into the most prominent centers of opposition to the tobacco concession. In May 1891, Sayyed Ali Akbar, a prominent molla (mullah) of Shiraz was removed from the city by orders of Nasir al-Din Shah due to his preaching against the concession. During his departure from Iran, Sayyed Ali Akbar met with prominent pan-Islamist activist Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and at Akbar's request Afghani wrote a letter to the leading Shia cleric Mirza Hasan Shirazi asking the mujtahid to "save and defend [the] country" from "this criminal who has offered the provinces of the land of Iran to auction amongst the Great Powers."Though Shirazi would later send a personal telegram to the shah warning the leader about the pitfalls of giving concessions to foreigners, this personal appeal did nothing to put an end to the Régie.
Government intervention may have helped in mitigating the hostilities in Shiraz following Akbar's removal, however other regions of Iran still saw a proliferation in protests. Bazaaris in Tehran were among the first groups of people to protest against the concession by writing letters of disapproval to the shah even before the concession was publicly announced. It has been argued that this initial opposition stemmed from a Russian attempt to stir up frustration within the merchant community of Tehran.Although Azarbaijan, the north western region of Iran, was not a tobacco-growing area, it saw tremendous opposition to the concession due to the large concentration of local merchants and retail traders in the region. In Isfahan a boycott of the consumption of tobacco was implemented even prior to Shirazi's fatwa (discussed below) while in the city of Tabriz, the bazaar closed down and the ulema stopped teaching in the madrasas. The cities of Mashhad and Kerman also experienced demonstrations in opposition to the concession yet historian Mansoor Moaddel argues that these latter movements were relatively ineffective. Other cities around the country such as Qazvin, Yazd, and Kermanshah were also involved in opposing the shah and the Tobacco Régie.
In December 1891, a fatwa was issued by the most important religious authority in Iran, marja'-i taqlid Mirza Hasan Shirazi,
`In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent. Today the use of both varieties of tobacco, in whatever fashion is reckoned war against the Imam of the Age [the Twelfth Imam] - may God hasten his advent.`
The reference to the Hidden Imam, a critical person in Shia Islam, meant that Shirazi was using the strongest possible language to oppose the Régie. Initially there was skepticism over the legitimacy of the fatwa; however, Shirazi would later confirm the declaration.
Iranians in the capital of Tehran refused to smoke tobacco and this collective response spread to neighboring provinces.In a show of solidarity, Iranian merchants responded by shutting down the main bazaars throughout the country. As the tobacco boycott grew larger, Nasir al-Din Shah and Prime Minister Amin al-Sultan found themselves powerless to stop the popular movement fearing Russian intervention in case a civil war materialized.
Prior to the fatwa, tobacco consumption had been so prevalent in Iran that it was smoked everywhere, including inside mosques. European observers noted that "most Iranians would rather forego bread than tobacco, and the first thing they would do at the breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan was to light their pipes." [ incomplete short citation ]Despite the popularity of tobacco, the religious ban was so successful that it was said that women in the shah's harem quit smoking and his servants refused to prepare his water pipe.
By January 1892, when the shah saw that the British government "was waffling in its support for the Imperial Tobacco Company," he canceled the concession.On January 26, 1892, "the public crier in Tehran announced that Sheikh Shirazi had lifted the fatva."
The fatwa has been called a "stunning" demonstration of the power of the marja'-i taqlid, and the protest itself has been cited as one of the issues that led to the Persian Constitutional Revolution a few years later.
Following the cancellation of the concession, there were still difficulties between the Qajar government and the Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia in terms of negotiating the amount of compensation that would be paid to the company. Eventually, it was decided that the sum was to be £500,000 equivalent to £58,000,000in 2021 , corresponding to 72,000,000$ ). While many Iranians were happy about preventing foreign commercial influence in the country, the tobacco movement had far greater implications than they would even realize. Historian Nikki Keddie notes that the movement was significant because "Iranians saw for the first time that it was possible to win out against the Shah and foreign interests… there is a direct line from the coalition which participated in the tobacco movement… culminating in the Constitutional Revolution" and arguably the Iranian Revolution as well.(
For Nasir Al-Din Shah, the protest left him both financially handicapped and publicly humiliated. Iran was forced to contract a loan from Russia and became a debtor state. At the end of his rule, Nasir Al-Din became much more hostile towards the West, preventing any form of European education or travel.
Masjed Soleyman is a city in the Central District of Masjed Soleyman County, Khuzestan province, Iran, and serves as both capital of the county and of the district.
Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar, was the fifth Qajar shah (king) of Iran, reigning from 1896 until his death in 1907. He is often credited with the creation of the Persian Constitution of 1906, which he approved of as one of his final actions as shah.
Naser al-Din Shah Qajar was the fourth Shah of Qajar Iran from 5 September 1848 to 1 May 1896 when he was assassinated. He was the son of Mohammad Shah Qajar and Malek Jahan Khanom and the third longest reigning monarch in Iranian history after Shapur II of the Sassanid dynasty and Tahmasp I of the Safavid dynasty. Nasser al-Din Shah had sovereign power for close to 51 years.
Sir Henry Drummond Charles Wolff, known as Henry Drummond Wolff, was an English diplomat and Conservative Party politician, who started as a clerk in the Foreign Office.
Hadi Sabzavari or Hajj Molla Hadi Sabzavari was an Iranian philosopher, mystic theologian and poet.
Antoine Kitabgi Khan was a Persian general who was director general of customs in Persia from 1881 to 1893 and initiated important concessions during the reigns of Nasseredin shah and his successor Mozaffareddin shah. He was in particular the initiator of the oil concession granted in 1901 to William Knox D'Arcy which gave birth to British Petroleum.
Sheikh Fazlollah bin Abbas Mazindarani, also known as Fazlollah Noori, was a major figure in Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911) as a Twelver Shia Muslim scholar and politically connected mullah of the court of Iran's shah (monarch). Originally a supporter of the constitution, he turned against it after the pro-constitution shah died and was replaced by one opposing the constitution. He was hanged as a traitor in 1909 by a court of the constitutionalist government for "sowing corruption and sedition on earth".
The Persian Constitutional Revolution, also known as the Constitutional Revolution of Iran, took place between 1905 and 1911 during the Qajar dynasty. The revolution led to the establishment of a parliament in Persia (Iran), and has been called an "epoch-making episode in the modern history of Persia".
The Persian Constitutional Revolution was a short-lived push for democratic rule in the form of a constitutional monarchy within a highly elitist yet decentralized society under the Qajars. The mounting disgust amidst the clergy, bazaaris, farmers, intellectuals, and other segments of the populace with respect to the Shah(s)' policies during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century illustrates a classic example of an environment ripe for protest, as a wide array of people in society felt an increasing need to express their grievances with an oppressive and largely autocratic government.
Mirza Seyyed Mohammad Tabatabai was one of the leaders of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution who played an important role in the establishment of democracy and rule of law in Iran. He was the son of Sayyed Sādegh Tabātabā'i, one of the influential Scholar during the reign of Naser ad-Din Shah Qajar. His paternal grandfather, Sayyed Mehdi Tabātabā'i, was a reputed clergy in Hamedan. He is the father of Sayyed Sādegh Tabātabā'i editor of Ruznāmeh-ye Majles, the Majles newspaper.
Bazaari is the merchant class and workers of bazaars, the traditional marketplaces of Iran. Bazaari are involved in "petty trade of a traditional, or nearly traditional, kind, centered on the bazaar and its Islamic culture". They have been described as "the class of people who helped make the 1979 Iranian Revolution".
The Ghavam (Qavam)family (Persian: خاندان قوام شیرازی) was an Iranian family in the Qajar era (1785–1925). They were descendants of Haj Ebrahim Khan Kalantar. British secret documents and Nasser Al Din Shah Qajar believed that the family was Jewish. Due to the family's wealth and political power, it was often said in Shiraz that "Before Reza Shah, Qavams were Shah here." The surname Ghavam is borrowed from honorific title Ghavam-al-saltaneh from Qajar court, which means pillar or continuation of Kingdom.
Qajar Iran, also referred to as Qajar Persia, the Qajar Empire, Sublime State of Persia, officially the Sublime State of Iran and also known as the Guarded Domains of Iran, was an Iranian state ruled by the Qajar dynasty, which was of Turkic origin, specifically from the Qajar tribe, from 1789 to 1925. The Qajar family took full control of Iran in 1794, deposing Lotf 'Ali Khan, the last Shah of the Zand dynasty, and re-asserted Iranian sovereignty over large parts of the Caucasus. In 1796, Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar seized Mashhad with ease, putting an end to the Afsharid dynasty. He was formally crowned as Shah after his punitive campaign against Iran's Georgian subjects.
The Reuter concession was a contract signed in 1872 between Baron Julius de Reuter, a British banker and businessman, and Naser al-Din Shah, Qajar king of Persia. George Curzon wrote that "[t]he concession was dated July 25, 1872. When published to the world, it was found to contain the most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a kingdom into foreign hands that has probably ever been dreamed of, much less accomplished, in history. Exclusive of the clauses referring to railroads and tramways, which conferred an absolute monopoly of both those undertakings upon Baron de Reuter for the space of seventy years, the concession also handed over to him the exclusive working for the same period of all Persian mines, except those of goldsilver, and precious stones; the monopoly of the government forests, all uncultivated land being embraced under that designation; the exclusive construction of canals, kanats, and irrigation works of every description; the first refusal of a national bank, and of all future enterprises connected with the introduction of roads, telegraphs, mills, factories, workshops, and public works of every description; and a farm of the entire customs of the empire for a period of twenty-five years from March 1, 1874, upon payment to the Shah of a stipulated sum for the first five years, and of an additional sixty per cent of the net revenue for the remaining twenty. With respect to the other profits, twenty per cent of those accruing from railways, and fifteen per cent of those derived from all other sources, were reserved for the Persian Government". The concession was met with not only domestic outrage in the form of local protests, but the Russian government was hostile towards the concession as well. Under immense pressure, Naser al-Din Shah consequently cancelled the agreement despite his deteriorating financial situation. The concession cancellation was also due to the British government refusing to support Reuter's unrealistic ambitions. While the concession lasted for approximately a year, the entire debacle set the foundation for the revolts against the tobacco concession in 1890 as it demonstrated that any attempt by a foreign power to infringe upon Iranian sovereignty would infuriate the local population as well as rival European powers, in this case the Russian government, which had its own interests in the region.
William Cormick, was a British physician of Irish origin in Qajar Iran during the reigns of Mohammad Shah Qajar (1834–1848) and Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (1848–1896). He is noted for having played an important role in the diffusion of Western medicine into Iranian society. He is also noted as the only westerner to have met the Báb.
Muhammad Hasan Ashtiyani was an Iranian Shia mujtahid, jurist, and man of hadith. He was involved at the Tobacco protest against the Tobacco Régie in 1891.
The Shah Mosque, also known as the Soltāni Mosque meaning "royal", renamed the Imam Mosque, after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, is a principal mosque in the northern section of the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran.
Grand Ayatollah Mujaddid Mirza Abu Muhammad Mu'iz al-DinMuhammad-Hassan al-Husayni al-Shirazi, better simply known as Mirza Shirazi, was an Iraqi-Iranian Shia marja'.
Mulla Ali Kani (Persian: ملا علی کنی, was an Iranian Shia Muslim scholar and philosopher involved with the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. He was a pupil of Muhammad Hasan al-Najafi. Kani was in charge of religious affairs of Iran, and had a great influence on people and even on Naser al-Din Shah Qajar and his court. After the singing of the Reuter concession in 1873 which in practice made Iran a colony of Britain, Mulla Ali Kani wrote a letter to the King, Nasir al-Din Shah, and opposed this contract. He wrote that what Reuter gains through this contract is even more than what Britain gained in India. He also wrote that when there is a flaw in governmental affairs, it is religious scholars' duty to refer to it, regardless of whether the king favors this approach, or tries to correct it or not. He asked the king in strong terms to cancel the contract and dismiss the prime minister, who was behind the signing of the contract. As a result of these objections, as well as foreign objections to the contract, Nasir al-Din Shah eventually canceled the contract and removed the minister from the office. Kani died in Tehran in 1888 and was buried in the shrine of Shah-Abdol-Azim shrine in Rey.
The Second Herat War was the invasion of the surrounding realm of Herat and the successful siege of its citadel by the Qajar army led by Hesam o-Saltaneh, Soltan Morad Mirza. The 1856 siege was part of the concerted Qajar effort to compensate the recent territorial losses in the Russo-Persian Wars of 1804–1813 and 1826–1828 by reconquering western Afghanistan, which had historically been a part of Persia's domain. The conflict was also a part of the broader Great Game between the British Empire and the Russian Empire.