ʿALAM, MOḤAMMAD EBRĀHIM, AMIR ŠAWKAT-AL-MOLK (b. Birjand, 1881; d. Birjand, 1944), one of the most eminent local magnates and landowners of the late Qajar and early Pahlavi period. He was the governor of Qāʾenāt and the Sistān province, and minister of post and telegraph in different cabinets between 1938 and 1941.
He came from an old aristocratic family that had enjoyed power in eastern Persia for centuries. His father was Amir ʿAlam Khan Ḥešmat-al-Molk, who had ruled over the two provinces of Sistān and Qāʾenāt, mustering a very large estate. After Ḥešmat-al-Molk's death, Nāṣer-al-Din Shah ordered his domain to be divided into two parts, placing one under the command of each of his two eldest sons, leaving the young Moḥammad Ebrāhim in the care of his mother.
In 1904, after the death of Moḥammad Ebrāhim's brother, Amir Esmāʿil Khan Šawkat-al-Molk, who had been governor of Birjand and Qāʾenāt, Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah appointed Moḥammad Ebrāhim to the same posts, conferring upon him the title of Šawkat-al-Molk. Having inherited both a large estate from his father and a portion of his elder brother's, Moḥammad Ebrāhim became one of the wealthiest members of the ʿAlam family (Etteḥād, II, p. 556).
During the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1909) Šawkat-al-Molk sided with the constitutionalists and made contact with some of their leaders (Mahdavi, I, p. 2). As a result, when Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah established his short-lived absolute rule in the country, Šawkat-al-Molk was dismissed from office.
After the fall of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah, Šawkat-al-Molk was reinstated as governor of Qāʾenāt and Sistān, and began introducing a number of reforms in his domain. He paid particular attention to establishing a well-organized local army with its own artillery, cavalry, infantry, and even its own military college for training officers. During World War I, the British government pleaded with Šawkat-al-Molk for assistance in order to secure the safety of Baluchistan's borders, and he aided the British by forming a local militia stationed at Zābol and Qāʾenāt, composed of troops recruited locally and commanded by British officers and financed by the British consulate (ʿAqeli, pp. 1029-30).
In 1921, when Colonel Moḥammad-Taqi Pesiān staged a rebellion against the government of the newly appointed prime minister Aḥmad Qavām (Qavām-al-Salṭana), Šawkat-al-Molk was given full authority as governor of Sistān and Qāʾenāt to stamp out the rebellion, by force if necessary. But Šawkat-al-Molk was reluctant to use force against Colonel Pesiān, attempting to deal with the situation diplomatically by offering advice and establishing personal contact with the Colonel, even while preparing a military force as a last resort. However, the death of Colonel Pesiān at the hands of certain rebellious tribesmen meant further action was unnecessary (Monṣef, pp. 160-83). In 1924, with the change in Persia from the Qajar to the Pahlavi dynasty, Šawkat-al-Molk resigned from office, transferring power to his two nephews, and went to reside in Tehran where he became a close confidant of Reza Shah.
In 1931 Reza Shah appointed Šawkat-al-Molk as head of a commission in Zābol to negotiate the status of the Helmand River (see HELMAND RIVER iv.) with a delegation from Afghanistan in order to secure a sufficient water supply for the irrigation of the Sistān region. In 1935, he transferred the management of his extensive estate to his son Asad-Allāh ʿAlam (q.v).
He was appointed governor of Fārs in 1937 and a year later became minister of post and telegraph during the premiership of Maḥmud Jam, a post which he also held in later cabinets, including those headed by Aḥmad Matin-Daftari, ʿAli Manṣur (Manṣur-al-Molk), and Moḥammad-ʿAli Foruḡi (ʿĀqeli, p. 1031).
Šawkat-al-Molk returned to Birjand in 1942 where he lived without holding any official posts for two years. In 1944, he traveled to Tehran for medical treatment of a heart ailment, but in the December of that same year he suffered a fatal heart attack in Birjand.
Šawkat-al-Molk made some attempt to improve the welfare of the Birjand area. He established the first modern school there in 1907, called Madresa-ye Šawkati, as well as a hospital, and a well-equipped library. Moreover, he took the first steps to build an almshouse and introduced piped water to Birjand. He also built several modern schools in the Qāʾenāt area (see BIRJAND). He was a devout Muslim who sometimes took measures contrary to the official reformist and secularist policies of the central government. For example, in defiance of the national curriculum adopted by the ministry of education and culture, he included his own religious programs in the curriculum of the schools in his region. He also ordered that all schools in his constituency must stay half closed during the month of Ramadan so that students and their teachers could observe the Ramadan fast without difficulty.
Bāqer ʿĀqeli, Šarḥ-e ḥāl-e rejāl-e siāsi va neẓāmi-e maʿāṣer-e Irān, II, Tehran, 2001, pp. 1029-1031; available at www.iranica.com_index.html.
Hušang Etteḥād, Pažuhešgarān-e moʿāṣer-e Irān, II, Tehran, 2001, pp. 556-57.
Moḥammad Ebrāhim Bāstāni Pārizi, Āsiā-ye haft sang, Tehran, 1977, p. 401.
ʿAbd-al-Reżā Hušang Mahdavi, ed., Gofteguhā-ye man bā šāh, Ḵāṭerāt-e maḥramāna-ye Amir Asad-Allāh ʿAlam, I, Tehran, 1992, pp. 2-4.
Moḥammad Moʿin, Farhang-e Fārsi V, Tehran, 1985, pp. 1191-192.
Moḥammad-ʿAli Monṣef, Amir Šawkat-al-Molk ʿAlam, Amir-e Qāʾen, Tehran, 1975
Ḥasan Morsalvand, Zendegi-nāma-ye rejāl va mašāhir-e Irān IV, Tehran, 1996, pp. 337-39, 358-59; available at www.columbia.edu/email_computing/index.html.
Sir Clarmont Percival Skrine, World War in Iran, London, 1962.
Originally Published: April 7, 2008
Last Updated: July 29, 2011