AMIR-AʿLAM, AMIR (b. Trabzon, 1861; d. Tehran, 2 Ordibehešt 1340 Š./22 April 1961, FIGURE 1), university professor, representative and deputy speaker of the Majles, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, senator, minister, and founder of the Red Lion and Sun (Jamʿiyat-e šir o ḵoršid-e sorḵ-e Irān), an organization corresponding to the Red Cross (Šajiʿi, 1965, p. 303). His father, Mirzā ʿAli-Akbar Khan Moʾtamen-al-Wozarāʾ, was a cousin of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s prime minister, Mirzā Ḥosayn Khan Sepahsālār Qazvini, and a ranking officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Wezārat-e omur-e ḵāreja). Amir Aʿlam studied medicine at the French School of Medicine in Beirut for two years until 1900, when he received a government scholarship to continue his medical studies in France. He went to Paris the same year but, due to the lack of necessary documents, had to wait for three years before he was admitted to the École de Santé Militarie de Lyon, where he eventually received his doctorate and was hired with the rank of captain (Nāṭeq, pp. 261-62; Eḥtešāmi, pp. 113-14). He returned home in 1906 on the eve of the Constitutional Revolution in Persia and took the position of professor of anatomy at the medical school of Dār-al Fonun, which in 1934 was turned into the Faculty of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Dentistry (Daneškada-ye ṭebb wa dāru-sāzi wa dandān-sāzi) of the University of Tehran. Amir Aʿlam, as one of the old faculty members, led a faction that often clashed with the one led by Moḥammad-Ḥosayn (Loqmān-al-Dawla) Adham, often hampering the systematic development of this new institution (see FACULTY of MEDICINE).
Amir Aʿlam represented Mašhad in the Second Majles and was responsible for the passing of the Health Protection and Smallpox Vaccination Act (Qānun-e ḥefẓ al-ṣeḥḥa wa ābela-kubi) of 1910 and the Medical Practice Act (Qānun-e ṭebābat) of 1911. He was, at the same time, appointed by the then minister of war, Aḥmad Qawām-al-Salṭana, as the director of the army’s health services with the rank of a brigadier general (sartip) without relinquishing his seat in the Majles. In 1912 he became the head of the gendarmerie health services, and during his tenure there he established several hospitals and pharmacies. In 1916, in recognition of his efforts in the promotion of medicine and public hygiene, he was selected, with the honorary title of sardār, as the personal physician of Aḥmad Shah and the chairman of the Council for Public Health Protection (Majles-e ḥefẓ al-ṣeḥḥa). Three years later, he joined the cabinet of Mirzā Ḥasan Woṯuḡ-al-Dawla, his father-in-law, as the minister of trade and public welfare (wazir-e tejārat wa fawāʾed-e ʿāmma) and in 1921 held the position of minister of education (wazir-e maʿāref) in the two cabinets of Aḥmad Qawām-al-Salṭana (Masʿudi, pp. 32-33). He represented Mašhad in the Majles four more times and for a while served as its deputy speaker (nāyeb raʾis) in the Fourth Majles (Šajiʿi, 1965, p. 303; idem, 1993, IV, p. 547). In 1923, following an earthquake in Bojnurd, Amir Aʿlam, who was then the head of the public health bureau in Khorasan, obtained Aḥmad Shah’s permission to found the Red Lion and Sun Organization (Hedāyati, pp. 274-75) and actually ran it as its deputy director for thirty-eight years. He remained active in the public services of this organization until his death, always being among the first people to rush to the aid of the victims of natural disasters. As the personal physician of Reżā Shah, he belonged to the inner circle of his associates, seeing him daily during the first few years of his reign, accompanying him on his trips, and joining him for a gambling bout (Ṭoluʿi, p. 350; Golšāiān, I, p. 253).
In 1939 Amir Aʿlam was selected to become a permanent member of the Persian Academy (Farhangestān) and three years later became one of its two deputy directors (Ṣadiq, II, pp. 246, 249). In 1948 he was appointed the minister of health (wazir-e behdāri) in the cabinet of Moḥammad Sāʿed, but he resigned a few days later due to his poor health. In 1949, when the Persian Senate was first established, Amir Aʿlam was appointed by Moḥammad-Reżā Shah as a senator from Tehran. He remained an appointed senator (senātor-e entesÂābi) from Tehran during the second and third sessions of the Senate (Masʿudi, pp. 1-2). He died on the 22nd of April 1961 in Tehran following a stroke (Sepehram, p. 623).
Amir Aʿlam was one of the most important contributors to the advancement and expansion of public health services in the country. He founded the first women’s hospital in Persia and, with his brother’s assistance, built a large general hospital (Bimārestān-e Aḥmadiya, later renamed Bimārestān-e Sepah) in Tehran (Hāšemiān, p. 461; Nāṭeq, p. 262). He taught medicine for many years at Dār al-Fonun and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tehran, where he also served as the its dean for over a year (Āḏar 1321-Bahman 1322 :S./Nov.-Dec. 1942-Jan.-Feb. 1943; Hedāyati, p. 123). After his death, a hospital was named after him in Tehran (Bimārestān-e Amir Aʿlam). Amir Aʿlam was married twice. He had a son, Fatḥ-Allāh Amir Aʿlam, from his first and a son, ʿAbd-al-Majid Aʿlam, and four daughters from his second marriage. ʿAbd-al-Majid studied architecture in Paris and became one of the leading contractors in Persia; he also founded the Labor Bank (Bānk-e kār) and served as the chairman of its board of directors. Of his daughters, one, Irān Aʿlam, studied medicine and another one, Homā, married Ḡolām-Reżā Pahlavi, a brother of Moḥammad-Reżā Shah.
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Eqbāl Yaḡmāʾi, “Amir Aʿlam,” Āmuzeš o parvareš 42, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 285-90.
Originally Published: July 20, 2002
Last Updated: August 3, 2011