Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East

By Bernard Lewis | Go to book overview

30
How Khomeini
Made It

In October 1962, the Shah’s government in Iran, as a step toward the extension of representative institutions, promulgated a law which provided for the election of representative local councils throughout the country. The religious leaders opposed the law and raised three main objections. First, it gave women the vote, for the first time in Iran; second, it did not restrict eligibility or even the franchise to Muslims; and third, to show that this was no mere formality, it provided a formula of oath by which elected councilors would swear not on the Qur’ān but on “the holy book,” a form of words clearly intended to accommodate elected councilors of other faiths.

The religious leaders were able to mobilize powerful support against the proposed law, which was opposed by preachers and teachers in mosques and seminaries, in petitions bearing thousands of signatures, and in meetings of protest and prayer. The prime minister wished to placate the opposition, first by trying to explain away the clauses that they disliked and offering to postpone the elections, and after that by sending telegrams and letters to the religious leaders informing them that the law had been suspended. Some of the religious leaders were content with this. Others, led by Khomeini, insisted that a private communication of a cabinet decision was insufficient and that a public announcement was required. This was made on 1 December.

Khomeini’s arguments foreshadow his later views. Granting the vote

A review of The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran and the Islamic Revolution by Shaul Bakhash,
Basic, from The New York Review of Books, 17 January 1985.

-389-

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