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noncommercial matters. In the next chapter it will be shown that the
Bazaar™s sense of solidarity was accentuated by external forces that
ensured the reproduction of the Bazaar™s institutions and demarcated
the Bazaar. Here I would like to draw attention to the fact that observers
of the Tehran Bazaar during the Pahlavi period often pointed out that
˜˜among tradesmen there is a strong sense of ˜we™ feeling and emotional
investment or identi¬cation with the bazaar sub-culture.™™48 This sense
of ˜˜we™™ and ˜˜community™™ emerged out of a steady accretion of inter-
actions that blurred the divide between potentially distinct spheres of
life “ kinship, friendship, partnership, and commerce. Ethnicities,
religious practices, kinship patterns, and everyday interactions helped
bring bazaaris together in a number of ways, allowing them to develop
similar belief systems and create a ¬eld in which their identities and
attributes could be made public and followers of norms could receive
approbation or malfeasance could be censured.
Bazaaris often had close relations throughout the Bazaar, and not just
in their sectors nor with economic partners. One important factor that

47
Clifford Geertz, Peddlers and Princes, p. 36.
48
Gustav Thaiss, ˜˜Religious Symbolism and Social Change: The Drama Husain,™™ Ph.D.
dissertation, Washington University (1973), p. 20.
92 Bazaar and State in Iran

helped establish ties across the Bazaar was ethnicity. Although the
of¬cial language of Iran is Persian, there were, and are, signi¬cant
Turkish (approximately 25 percent), Kurdish (approximately 8“10
percent), and Arabic (approximately 3“5 percent) speaking groups and
countless dialects. For decades the Tehran Bazaar has re¬‚ected the
polyglot nature of Iran. As for religious heterogeneity, over 90 percent of
Iranians are Shiite Muslims, with the remainder being Sunni Muslims
(7 percent), Christains of various denominations, Jews, Zoroastrians,
and Bahais. Commercial activities re¬‚ected some of this religious vari-
ety, with a small number of Jews active in the cloth and carpet industries
and the gold and jewelry markets in the Bazaar. Armenians, Zor-
oastrians, and Bahais were less common in the Tehran Bazaar, but are
represented in the newer commercial sections of Tehran. One merchant
described Muslims and Jews as bazaari and Armenians and Zoroastrians
as khiyabani, or ˜˜of the street™™. Moreover, regional backgrounds also
helped differentiate bazaaris. As the largest city and capital, Tehran
attracted people from all regions. In the Bazaar there were important
groups with family roots in the Isfahan, Yazd, Khuzestan, and Mashhad
regions.
Although identity politics could have become a force to fragment
bazaaris, it does not seem to have been a particularly divisive force prior
to the Revolution, at least in the Tehran Bazaar.49 The Tehran Bazaar
did not exhibit strong ethnolinguistic cleavages, because ethnic or reli-
gious groups did not map onto trades and Tehran in the 1960s and
1970s included Iranians of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Con-
versely, the presence of members from the same ethnic, religious, or
regional groups across a number of sectors fostered connections beyond
narrow economic ties and the con¬nes of one™s occupation. Individuals
would develop relationships across guild boundaries by making
acquaintances based on their linguistic, regional, or confessional back-
grounds. In particular, religious organizations and places were impor-
tant arenas that helped unite those from the same background. For
instance, many Azeri Turkish speakers would congregate at one of
the larger mosques in the Bazaar known as the Azerbaijani Mosque or
the ˜˜Mosque of the Turks™™ (of¬cially named Shaykh Abd al-Hosayn
Mosque). Another mosque is known as the Mosque of the Gilanis
(masjed-e gilaniha) and attracts people from Gilan province.

49
The notable exception was the Bahai community that was viewed as heretical and
severely ostracized by religious conservatives inside and outside the bazaars. I am
unaware of any studies of Behais working in the Tehran Bazaar during the second half
of the twentieth century, but it is likely that Bahais worked, and may still work, in a less
than open and free manner.
Bazaar transformations 93

Religious activities, the social dimension cited most often within the
Bazaar, were an important part of associational life that created inter-
personal relationships among members of the Bazaar network. Religious
practices were arenas which brought together bazaaris from various
backgrounds on a regular basis. As the old public heart of the city, the
Bazaar contains numerous mosques and shrines, many of which were
built by guilds or prominent merchants for the Bazaar community as a
form of bene¬cence. The prominent mosques in the Bazaar included
the Jame˜ Mosque, the Emam Khomeini Mosque (Shah Mosque),
Cheheltan Mosque, and the Textile Sellers™ Mosque. Prior to the
Revolution, bazaaris would go to religious sites for their afternoon
prayers, for special Koranic readings, or simply for conversation and
re¬‚ection. In the process there were opportunities to expand one™s
spectrum of acquaintances or to deepen existing relations.
In the 1970s a number of accounts of the Tehran Bazaar argued that
religious meetings held by the members of the Bazaar were crucial in
encouraging socially embedded relations.50 These gatherings, called
hayats, had religious trappings, although they were not exclusively
religious. These weekly or biweekly meetings brought together small
groups of bazaaris to discuss the week™s events. These hayats were often
sponsored by a merchant from a particular neighborhood and organized
by a mosque for the neighborhood. These associations crossed class and
guild barriers. They were informal in the sense that there was no
structure or dictated agenda. They did have a set time and day of the
week and rotated among the homes of members. The religious aspect of
these meetings was the customary prayers and readings from the Koran
led by a younger cleric who often specialized in giving passionate ser-
mons describing the martyrdom of Shiite heroes. The private setting
allowed preachers and participants to manipulate religious symbols and
characters in ways that made them analogous to present-day political
conditions.
These meetings, however, were much more than lessons in Islamic
theology and law or expressions of religiosity: they were a regularized
meeting place for members of the Bazaar. The topics of discussion often

50
Gustav Thaiss, ˜˜The Bazaar as a Case Study of Religion and Social Change,™™ in Iran
Faces from the Seventies, ed. Yar-Shater (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), pp. 201“
3; Gustav Thaiss, ˜˜Religious Symbolism and Social Change: The Drama of Husain,™™
in Scholars, Saints, and Su¬s: Muslim Religious Institutions in the Middle East since 1500,
ed. Nikki Keddie (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 352“55; and
Michael M. J. Fischer, Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1980). Rotblat notes that religious gatherings and religion play a
broader role in Tehran than in the provincial bazaar of Qazvin. Rotblat, ˜˜Stability and
Change in an Iranian Provincial Bazaar,™™ p. 298.
94 Bazaar and State in Iran

crossed over into worldly issues and included anything from the week™s
economic and political news to the need to ¬nd a spouse for a son or
daughter. During these meetings the members collected funds for
merchants in ¬nancial trouble; ¬nancially supported the building of
mosques, religious theaters, seminaries, and hospitals; organized
weddings and festivals, and sanctioned bazaaris who broke ˜˜the rules™™
by spreading rumors about them.
There were different types of hayat. Occupational- or guild-related
meetings were composed of members from the same trade. Another type
of hayat was based on ethnic group and was composed of individuals who
did not necessarily share the same occupation, but were from the same
region, town, or ethnic group. Third, there were women™s weekly meet-
ings for mothers, wives, and daughters of bazaaris. Thus, these associa-
tions blended neighborly, religious, familial, and economic spheres.
Therefore, a single merchant could attend more than one meeting during
the course of a week. In turn, hayats presented an opportunity to practice
organizational skills and extend the chain of reciprocity. Thaiss percep-
tively concludes, ˜˜It is through the [heyats] that individuals have an
opportunity to meet and discuss . . . [and] that networks of interpersonal
relations are established and extended or links in the network dropped. It
is through these interpersonal networks and the participation of the same
individuals in several different gatherings during the week that bazaar
information, ideas, and rumors are passed on.™™51
Religious practices, although having important expressive and
altruistic motivations, also played a pragmatic role in that they signaled
trustworthiness. Sprinkling one™s speech with religious expressions,
including pledging oaths to God or referring to the Koran and Shiite
Imams, was meant to signal a bazaari™s piety, and through that his
honesty. Also, establishing charities, paying religious taxes, and orga-
nizing and participating in religious feasts were part of the ethic of the
chivalrous man.52 Charity showed the community (meaning both the
Bazaar and neighborhood) that one was generous and not materially
oriented. Second, these acts were belived to purify one™s wealth in the
eyes of God, who rewards almsgiving, and simultaneously to protect
one™s wealth against the evil eye. Of course, too much public display
of charity could raise the curiosity of tax collectors and invite questions
about the source of the wealth. Bazaaris had to ¬nd the critical


51
Thaiss, ˜˜The Bazaar as a Case Study of Religion and Social Change,™™ p. 202.
52
Fariba Adelkhah, Being Modern in Iran, trans. Jonathan Derrick (New York: Columbia
University Press, 2000), pp. 30“52.
Bazaar transformations 95

equilibrium for good works so that they received the ˜˜bene¬ts™™ without
attracting unwanted attention.
Having stressed the religious dimension of bazaari life, one must be
careful not to overestimate the centrality or singularity of religion. Like
any other religion or ideology and despite the pretences of ˜˜true
believers™™ or declarations of Orientalists, Islam has various meanings
and expressions and may coexist with other, sometimes contradictory,
practices and beliefs. The bazaaris™ religiosity and the role of Islam are
too complex to be gleaned simply from the prevalence of prayer beads
and pictures of Imams. Moreover, it is not enough simply to be publicly
religious; one™s behavior must be consistent with outward religiosity.
There is evidence that bazaaris carefully distinguish the pseudoreligious
(mazhabi-nama) from those who truly abide by the norms of Islam for
unworldly gain. So, religious practices (praying and paying alms) are not
suf¬cient means to achieve a reputable status in the Bazaar. On the
other hand, being a good Muslim is not the only means of exhibiting
trustworthiness. ˜˜Of course we transact with non-religious people if the
person is upstanding. The criteria to initiate an exchange with someone
is his know-how not his religion.™™53 Howard Rotblat, who conducted
extensive research in the Qazvin Bazaar in the late 1960s, succinctly
captures my own impressions when he writes, ˜˜The existence of religion
as a common denominator among the bazaaris is a fact which is taken
for granted rather than an active basis for social solidarity.™™54
Family ties are another critical mechanism that brought diverse bazaari
groups together. Commercial ties were reinforced by family connections
and alliances. Over the years, endogamy has resulted in a thick web of
familial relations among bazaaris.55 Gustav Thaiss, an anthropologist
who conducted research in the Tehran Bazaar in the 1970s, writes, ˜˜In
the past (and today also to some extent), the bazaar was one large kinship
unit, since intermarriage within the bazaar was preferred and prac-
ticed.™™56 Traditionally arranged marriages were common within trades,
but often took place between sons and daughters of bazaaris from
different occupational backgrounds. This helped foster the growth of
family-run trade houses that accumulate and reuse capital and maintain
reputation by intermarriage. For example, the genealogy presented in

53
Jabbari, Hamisheh Bazar, p. 75. One of the main themes of Jabbari™s work is that it is
inaccurate to reduce the bazaar to its religious dimension or overemphasize its
attachment to the Shiite clergy.
54
Rotblat, ˜˜Stability and Change in an Iranian Provincial Bazaar,™™ p. 182.
55
The value of marriage of cousins in Iranian society is re¬‚ected in the saying, ˜˜The
engagement of cousins is decided in the heavens.™™
56
Thaiss, ˜˜The Bazaar as a Case Study of Religion and Social Change,™™ p. 199.
96 Bazaar and State in Iran

Illustration 3.1 demonstrates that even with only three generations of
bazaaris we witness many marriages taking place among fellow members
of the Bazaar. Moreover, although the kinship ties centered on the china
and glassware bazaar, they also stretch across several other sectors in the
Bazaar (e.g. dye sellers, tailors, and grocers).
Finally, physical space embedded the Bazaar™s networks within a
shared social context. The distinct geography and architecture of the
Bazaar™s buildings gave the Bazaar a tangible quality that composed the
identity of bazaaris. Space was the common differentiating marker
between economic activity within the Bazaar and outside of it. Both
within the Bazaar and in Iranian society more generally, a distinct dif-
ference was (and is) made between the Bazaar and the khiyaban, or
street.57 While modernization theorists point to this difference as a
re¬‚ection of a distinction between traditional and modern cultures,
bazaaris have given meaning to these categories by designating the
khiyabanis as inexperienced, being less reputable and skillful, and being
more marginal to commercial activity. Even though these perceptions
may have been erroneous, it is important to note that bazaaris and
khiyabanis distinguished one another in terms of location, which re¬‚ects
and delimits participation in bazaari socioeconomic networks.
The physical structure of the marketplace is so important that even
the very soil, dirt, and grime of the Bazaar™s alleys and buildings are
believed to be embodied in a bazaari. When I developed a chest cold
and had a dry cough during my research, a bazaari said it was due to the
˜˜dust of the Bazaar,™™ and jokingly added, ˜˜Only now are you becoming
a bazaari.™™ An exchange between Gustav Thaiss and one of his infor-
mants some three decades earlier illustrates this point further. ˜˜Our type
is used to the dirt of the bazaar. They can even get any kind of microbe
from our blood. Believe me, if they send my blood to be examined, they
will ¬nd out I am immune to all the diseases. Why? Because the dust
from the carpets has ¬lled up our lungs . . . .™™ When Thaiss asked the
informant what he meant by ˜˜our type,™™ he responded, ˜˜Bazaari™s type
(tip-i bazaari).™™58 Thus, bazaaris conceived of group identity as being
forged from the physical attributes of the bazaar.
The intimate work environment of the Bazaar helped generate a unique
social milieu wherein people from all walks of life did more than simply
pass each other. Narrow alleys specializing in particular goods and open
storefronts and of¬ces allow the many passers-by, either customers or
57
This distinction was made in a interview with an old member of the Shoemakers™
Syndicate; see interview with Javad Mehran-Gohar (Nateq-˜Ali), ˜˜Dar vajeb budan va
dorost budan-e Sandika, Shakki Nist,™™ Andisheh-ye Jame˜eh 12 (n.d.), 59“65.
58
Thaiss, ˜˜Religious Symbolism and Social Change: The Drama Husain,™™ pp. 24“5.
Wholesaler grocer in the Tehran Bazaar




Son 1 Daughter 1 Daughter 2
Son 3
Son 2
Rice wholesaler, Married to tailor
Takes over father's
Glassware wholesaler
carpet wholesaler occupation in the Bazaar
in the Bazaar

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