W. H. Hallman, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜The Tabriz Bazaar,‚Ä™‚Ä™ airgram from U.S. consulate in Tabriz to
Department of State, September 9, 1964.
Lebaschi, tape recording no. 2, 13‚Ä“20.
Parsa, States, Ideologies, and Social Revolutions, pp. 212‚Ä“13.
Networks of mobilization under two regimes 247
New York Times reporter, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜A sound society must have freedom. Or what
good is material progress? We don‚Ä™t want to live in a golden cage.‚Ä™‚Ä™74 Like
earlier movements, the bazaaris tended to favor nationalist and broadly
democratic politics that promised to give them access to the polity.
During the Revolution, those bazaaris who participated in the
movement against the Shah fell under the umbrella of three factions:
Khomeini‚Ä™s circle of supporters, the Liberation Movement of Iran,75
and National Front.76 It is simply impossible directly to evaluate the
relative weight of each group since we have no opinion data from that
era, existing collections of statements and petitions put together in Iran
are designed to serve the state‚Ä™s ofÔ¬Ācial narrative, and interviews con-
ducted after the Revolution are highly unreliable since responses are
heavily colored by postrevolutionary outcomes and experiences. Com-
pounding the problem of deÔ¬Ācient sources, the political groupings in the
bazaars, with the possible exception of the National Front-aligned
Society of Merchants, Guilds, and Artisans and Khomeini‚Ä™s supporters
based in the ICA, did not have formal and public institutions that
actively sought to integrate and mobilize bazaaris. Political relations
were diffuse and Ô¬‚uid, and afÔ¬Āliations were muted, with support given to
individual political Ô¬Āgures rather than loyalty to parties or platforms.
The secondary literature that has conducted serious analysis of bazaari
politics agrees that bazaaris did not speak with one voice.77 However,
given the evidence it seems fair to conclude that during the revolutionary
build-up that overthrew the Pahlavi regime, the Khomeini faction,
although quite powerful in terms of organization, ideological commit-
ment, and doctrinal uniformity, neither was the sole voice of the Bazaar
New York Times, June 4, 1978.
Chehabi argues that although many members of the LMI had roots in the Bazaar and a
few were active members within it, there was little active party interaction with the
bazaar community. Instead he believes that the National Front had more direct ties.
H. E. Chehabi, Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran
under the Shah and Khomeini (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), pp. 95‚Ä“7.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that while the LMI as an association was perhaps
not as popular as the National Front, individual members such as Taleqani (despite his
egalitarian reading of Islam) and Bazargan were highly respected and supported by large
segments of the Tehran Bazaar. Taleqani was (and continues to be) particularly popular
among bazaaris, who see him as a cleric who was ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜open-minded‚Ä™‚Ä™ and comfortable with
accommodating modernity and Islam. Many merchants gave their religious taxes to
him. Wall Street Journal, February 1, 1979.
Parsa claims that the principal activists in the bazaars were the liberal nationalists.
Parsa, States, Ideologies, and Social Revolutions, pp. 207‚Ä“9.
Ashraf, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Nezam-e SenÔ¬Ā va Jame‚Ä˜eh-ye Madani,‚Ä™‚Ä™ 5‚Ä“40; Shaul Bakhash, The Reign of the
Ayatollahs: Iran and the Islamic Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1990); and Parsa,
Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution.
248 Bazaar and State in Iran
nor dominated the Bazaar in terms of numbers or dictated their actions
1975: a revolutionary situation, but nonrevolutionary outcome The
political relationship between the mosque and the bazaar appears
especially circumstantial once we take into consideration the instance of
nonmobilization in June 1975. In separate works, Parsa and Kurzman
have judiciously compared the often forgotten Qom uprising of 1975
and that of January 1978, which was one of the founding events of the
revolution.78 On June 5, 1975, more than a thousand seminarians close
to Khomeini held a three-day sit-in at one of Qom‚Ä™s well-known
seminaries to commemorate the 1963 uprising. The government
responded by sending in the military, killing dozens and closing down
the seminary. In a show of support, seminary students in Mashhad (the
second most important center for religious learning) demonstrated
against the state‚Ä™s repression, and Khomeini sent a letter of condolences
to the Iranian people in which he again chastised the Shah. However,
bazaaris did not participate in the protests or close their shops in support
of the seminaries.79 Unlike during similar events in January 1978, the
bazaar was not directly attacked by the state (e.g. the antiproÔ¬Āteering
campaign did not start until August 1975). The economy, although far
from sound, remained quite proÔ¬Ātable for the propertied classes, and the
political openings and broad political and social alliances that existed in
1977 and 1978 were not available. Finally, this revolutionary situation,
but nonevent, so shortly before the Revolution suggests that religious
authority and mobilization are not sufÔ¬Ācient conditions for bazaari
mobilization; were this the case, June 1975 would have been an ideal
moment for the bazaar to ally itself with the mosque.80
ReÔ¬‚ections on the mosque‚Ä“bazaar alliance Reviewing the many
instances of mobilization against the state, one cannot help but notice
the consistent role of both the clergy and the bazaaris in these struggles.
SpeciÔ¬Ācally, religious organizations and sites, many of which were
located in the bazaars, were critical organizational means for mobiliza-
tion. The diffuse religious associations that helped generate crosscutting
Parsa, Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution, pp. 100‚Ä“2; Charles Kurzman, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜The Qum
Protests and the Coming of the Iranian Revolution, 1975 and 1978,‚Ä™‚Ä™ Social Science
History 27(Fall 2003), 287‚Ä“325.
Parsa, Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution, pp. 100‚Ä“2.
A similar comparison can be made between the merchants‚Ä™ participation in the tobacco
protests in the 1890s, and their lack of participation in the protests against the Reuters
concession to build the railroad in the 1870s. Janet Afary, The Iranian Constitutional
Revolution, 1906‚Ä“1911 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. 30.
Networks of mobilization under two regimes 249
and multifaceted relations in the bazaar, with their expertise in orga-
nizing communal religious events to celebrate religious holidays and
commemorate the martyrdom of the Imams, were a powerful resource
in planning and orchestrating collective protests of hundreds and even
thousands of demonstrators. In the midst of the Revolution the well-
known editor and journalist for the Keyhan daily Amir Taheri noted,
‚Ä˜‚Ä˜As far as bringing together crowds is concerned the bazaar is still the
best organised and most efÔ¬Ācient organisation in the major cities. This is
done through a network of ‚Ä˜procession leaders‚Ä™ who organise religious
gatherings at times of mourning in the months of Ramazan, Moharram,
and Safar of the Arab lunar calendar.‚Ä™‚Ä™81 He estimated that there were
5,000 procession organizers ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜at the disposal of the bazaar.‚Ä™‚Ä™ When asked
by a western journalist, a shop owner in the Tehran Bazaar stated that
‚Ä˜‚Ä˜he can muster at least 10 and sometimes up to 50 people from his
‚Ä˜territory‚Ä™ in southern Tehran for a procession or demonstration.‚Ä™‚Ä™82
Additionally, given that the clergy enjoyed a high social standing in
society, they were also important for gaining a modicum of legitimacy
for social movements. The pulpit was a potentially powerful vehicle to
transform the protests of the commercial class into those of the general
public. Thus, the preexisting networks made it ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜natural‚Ä™‚Ä™ for bazaaris to
turn to the clergy for protection and support against despotic attacks by
While it is correct to say that mosque‚Ä“bazaar relations are heavily
intertwined, both parties were well represented in all national political
movements, and coupled together they constituted an astounding
organizational force, assuming that these factors translate into a political
or ideological alliance is a different matter. As the narrative above
illustrates, clerical activism and bazaari collective action do not neatly
map onto one another as the mosque‚Ä“bazaar alliance paradigm at its
most assertive would have us believe. First, we have cases when the
members of the religious establishment have mobilized against the state,
while the bazaar community has remained aloof (June 1975). Con-
versely, there are other instances when the bazaar community has
maintained its mobilization against the state even after leading clerics
had withdrawn their support (Constitutional Revolution and oil natio-
nalization movement). Finally, as the discussion of the tobacco protests,
the 1963 uprising, and the Islamic Revolution illustrate, the Tehran
Bazaar at times was engaged in collective action prior to clerical
endorsement and participation. Overall, this reading suggests a larger
Keyhan International, October 2, 1978.
Wall Street Journal, November 30, 1978.
250 Bazaar and State in Iran
degree of autonomy between bazaari collective action and clerical
mobilization than the historiography acknowledges.83
What are the reasons underlying the empirical shortcomings of the
mosque‚Ä“bazaar alliance hypotheses? First, even if the majority of
the bazaaris were mobilized against the state in these episodes, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜the
mosque‚Ä™‚Ä™ has not uniformly or consistently supported these initiatives,
and they have not always provided an ideological logic for such politics.
As an opaque hierarchy consisting of largely independent thinkers and
patronage systems, the clerics have advocated and legitimated different ‚Ä“
even contradictory ‚Ä“ positions from one another and at each particular
historical juncture. For example, after the January 1978 killing of the
students in Qom, Khomeini, who did not support the 1953 movement,
called for mass mobilization, and the high-ranking Ayatollah Shar-
i‚Ä˜atmadari rejected a call for a national strike at this stage, while another
high-ranking cleric, Ayatollah Khansari, went so far as to advise bazaaris
in Tehran not to strike.84 Even if we believe that Shiite theology
embodies an oppositional stance to secular rule85 or is a ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜culture con-
ducive to challenge authority,‚Ä™‚Ä™86 as this and many other examples from
Iranian, Iraqi, Azeri and Lebanese history illustrate, the individual
clerical interpretation of both Shiite Islam and political situations may
not lead to opposition to the state.87 Similarly, the bazaar community,
while enjoying a ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜solidarity structure,‚Ä™‚Ä™ has exhibited diversity. In terms
of class, merchants were more prominent in 1882 and 1905‚Ä“11, while
retailers and small wholesalers took the initiative in 1963 and 1978‚Ä“9.
Ethnicity also mattered to some degree, with the large Azeri community in
the Tehran Bazaar and the enormous popularity of the moderate con-
stitutionalist Ayatollah Shari‚Ä˜atmadari. Finally, as the discussion of the
Islamic Revolution suggests, cleavages in political ideology were also
prevalent among members of the Bazaar. Thus, both the bazaar and the
Vanessa Martin develops a similar argument regarding the highly textured nature of the
relationship between clerics and merchants during the Constitutional Revolution. See
Islam and Modernism: The Iranian Revolution of 1906 (New York: Syracuse University
Parsa, States, Ideologies, and Social Revolutions, p. 139.
Hamid Algar, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜The Oppositional Role of the Ulama in Twentieth-Century Iran,‚Ä™‚Ä™ in
Scholars, Saints, and SuÔ¬Ās: Muslim Religious Institutions in the Middle East since 1500, ed.
Nikki Keddie (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972).
Theda Skocpol, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Rentier State and Shi‚Ä™a Islam in the Iranian Revolution,‚Ä™‚Ä™ Theory and
Society 11 (May 1982), 275.
Moaddel, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜The Shi‚Ä™i Ulama and the State in Iran,‚Ä™‚Ä™ 519‚Ä“56; Azar Tabari, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜The Role of
the Clergy in Modern Iranian Politics,‚Ä™‚Ä™ in Religion and Politics in Iran, ed. Nikki R.
Keddie (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983); and Willem M. Floor, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜The
Revolutionary Character of the Ulama: Wishful Thinking or Reality?‚Ä™‚Ä™ in Religion and
Politics in Iran, ed. Nikki R. Keddie (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).
Networks of mobilization under two regimes 251
mosque are more heterogeneous than narratives based on the mosque‚Ä“
bazaar alliance will have us believe. The apparent homogeneity of each
group and the general compatibility of their actions vis-a-vis the social
movements says more about these movements‚Ä™ multiclass and populist
qualities than about an essential afÔ¬Ānity between movement participants.
Second, the implied causal relationship between the bazaaris‚Ä™ reli-
giosity and their politics is questionable on many fronts. To begin with,
one may question the assumption that bazaaris are as religious as out-
siders assume. This is ostensibly the argument laid out by Jabbari, Parsa,
Lebaschi, Rotblat, Smith, and many of the secular bazaaris I met.88
While I am sympathetic to this view and believe that for many bazaaris
in Tehran, religion may be more of a ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜private matter‚Ä™‚Ä™ than non-
bazaaris assume, this is a disputable empirical argument and one that
needs substantiation. As a factual matter, this is difÔ¬Ācult (and I believe
unlikely) to assess since we lack adequate data about religiosity among
the bazaaris, and more importantly a comparison to other social groups.
Here I believe anecdotal evidence from interviews in the bazaar (espe-
cially in the postrevolutionary era) is insufÔ¬Ācient and misleading.
Putting aside the countless issues of measuring religiosity, we face the
even more basic problem of interpretation. Even if we had data on
frequency of prayer, alms giving, and attendance at religious festivities,
we would still have to contemplate what exactly this tells us about the
politics of bazaaris.
In everyday affairs, religious language and gestures do exist as either
cultural symbols representing trustworthiness or assemblages of personal
faith. As part of an economy that is heavily based on reputation, religious
markers (being a hajji, Ô¬Āngering rosary beads, not looking into a woman‚Ä™s
eyes, and peppering one‚Ä™s speech with religious references and vocabu-
lary) act as a particularly useful means to demonstrate trustworthiness to
strangers. Similarly, public religious acts (e.g. paying one‚Ä™s religious
taxes, making Ô¬Ānancial contributions to shrines and organizing public
ceremonies) are a means to maintain standing within the community.89
These individual public acts, even if prevalent at the level of the entire
Jabbari, Hamisheh Bazar; Lebaschi, tape recording no. 3; Parsa, States, Ideologies, and
Social Revolutions, pp. 202‚Ä“3; Howard J. Rotblat, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Stability and Change in an Iranian
Provincial Bazaar,‚Ä™‚Ä™ Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Chicago, 1972; and Benjamin
Smith, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Collective Action with and without Islam: Mobilizing the Bazaar in Iran,‚Ä™‚Ä™ in
Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach, ed. Quintan Wiktorowicz
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004).
Rotblat, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Stability and Change in an Iranian Provincial Bazaar.‚Ä™‚Ä™ In my experience,
doctrinally religious Iranians are also skeptical of the bazaaris‚Ä™ religiosity. In fact, in
Ja‚Ä˜far Shahri‚Ä™s social history of Tehran he comments that ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜the religious called the
bazaar a kofrestan,‚Ä™‚Ä™ or ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜a place of sin.‚Ä™‚Ä™ Taken from Jabbari Hamisheh Bazar, p. 142.
252 Bazaar and State in Iran
group, however, do not necessarily imply a single political ideology
based on Islam. Theoretically speaking, to assume otherwise would be to
overly reify Islam. Bazaaris, who as a whole became increasingly literate
and socially mobile during the twentieth century, like all Muslims, are
capable of and comfortable in interpreting their religious faith in ways
that create distinct spheres for the sacred and the profane, or of con-
structing exegeses to justify their consumption patterns (e.g. imbibing
alcohol, smoking opium, charging interest, and soliciting prostitutes)
and diverse political ends (e.g. nationalist, socialist, xenophobic, mon-
archist, and Islamist) that diverge from doctrine. Moreover, the level of
religiosity does not seem to correlate with politics. In 1953, when it is
reasonable to assume that bazaaris were more observant than they were
in the 1970s, the bazaar diverged from the majority of the clerical
establishment in its support for Mosaddeq‚Ä™s government.