ḴALILI, ʿABBĀS, political activist, journalist, translator, poet, and novelist (b. Najaf, 1895; d. Tehran, 1971; Figure 1).
Ḵalili was born to a cleric, Sheikh Asad-Allāh, who educated him in Persian and Arabic language and literature. Later, Ḵalili studied Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic philosophy at the seminaries of Najaf in the 1910s (see Mahyār Ḵalili, p. 17; no dates are available for early years of his life; see also iraq xi. shiʿite seminaries).
The British occupation of Iraq after World War I led to the emergence of an Iraqi resistance movement in 1918-19, when Iraqi religious authorities called for a jihad (see islam in iran xi. jihad in islam) against British occupation. A number of anti-colonial secret societies were also formed in the period, among them the Society for Islamic Movement (Jamʿiyat-e nahżat-e eslāmi; also known as ‘The League of the Islamic Awakening’ in British publications). The young Ḵalili was among the founders of the Society and served as its secretary (Tabarrāʾiān, p. 43; Sepehr, p. 70; Ārianpur, p. 264; Ṣadr Hāšemi, p. 227; Mahyār Ḵalili, p. 17). Following the assassination of Captain W. M. Marshall, the British Political Officer in Najaf, at the hands of the Society, the British blockaded the city, executed a number of revolutionaries, and exiled many others. Ḵalili was also sentenced to death, but he fled to Iran and lived in Rasht for three years, using the alias Sheikh ʿAli Fatiy-al-Eslām. His Arabic accent caused some to call him Ḵalili-e Arab (“Ḵalili the Arab”; Behzādi, p. 207). He nonetheless regarded Iran as his homeland (Ṣafāʾi, p. 267).
After a general amnesty was declared in Iraq, he revealed his true identity and began working as an Arabic translator for Raʿd, a newspaper published by Sayyed Żiāʿ-al-Din Ṭabāṭabāʾi (q.v.; Mahyār Ḵalili, pp. 17-18). Afterwards, with the help of Sayyed Żiāʾ, he was put in charge of the Baladiya newspaper (see baladiya, no. 9). He was also involved with Bahār, a Persian literary, scientific, and political monthly founded by Mirzā Yusof Khan Āštiāni, known as Eʿteṣām-al-Molk (1874-1938; see eʿteṣāmi). After Sayyed Żiāʾ left Iran in 1921, Ḵalili founded Eqdām (Ārianpur, p. 264; Golbon, p. 25), a newspaper covering news and social issues, which was initially published three times a week and later as a daily, during the period of 1921-27. In 1927, Eqdām was shut down along with many other Persian newspapers, signaling a crackdown on press freedoms by Reżā Shah (Ṣadr Hāšemi, p. 227).
Ḵalili was a confidant and an influential supporter of Reżā Khan Sardār Sepah (later Reżā Shah, r. 1925-41), and he mediated in the rivalry between Sardār Sepah and Sayyed Ḥasan Modarres, a very influential political cleric of the 1920s. He was part of a group of influential journalists and newspapers who actively supported Sardār Sepah through their publications, and through his articles in Eqdām he contributed to the overthrow of the Qajar dynasty and the coming to power of Sardār Sepah (Ḵalili, p. 159).
During the period of 1922-29, Ḵalili worked as a translator in the Legal Office of the Ministry of Justice (Edāra-ye ḥoquqi-e Wezārat-e ʿadliya). After Eqdām was closed in 1927, he spent the next two decades working as a businessman and writing novels (Mahyār Ḵalili, p. 19; see below).
After Moḥammad Reżā Shah (r. 1941-79) succeeded his father to the Pahlavi throne, Ḵalili maintained close relations with the new Shah and Aḥmad Qawām, and began to republish Eqdām (Behzādi, p. 209). Occupation of Iran by Allied forces during 1941-45 led to a rare and short-lived period of freedom of expression. During this time, readers were increasingly drawn to Ḵalili’s powerful and passionately written articles (Behzādi, pp. 200-202). For a time Eqdām was among the most widely circulated, influential, and admired newspapers in the country. After several years, however, with a rise in the number of rival publications and increased competition, Ḵalili’s editorial pieces, with their marked romantic overtones, lost their appeal among Persian readers, and Eqdām was permanently closed in 1949 (Behzādi, p. 203).
In 1949 he became Iranian ambassador to Yemen and Ethiopia. After his return in 1952, he was appointed to the board of Iran’s Fishery Company (Šerkat-e šilāt-e Irān; Mahyār Ḵalili, p. 19).
Ḵalili led a turbulent personal life; he was married four times and had six children—four sons and two daughters—including the famous poet Simin Behbahāni, whose mother was Faḵr ʿOẓmā Arḡun, Ḵalili’s second wife (Mahyār Ḵalili, p. 20). Faḵr ʿOẓmā was a progressive poet and writer, translator, and women’s rights activist as well as editor of the newspaper Āyanda-ye Irān (Golbon, p. 26). She met Ḵalili after the publication in Eqdām of one of her poems.
In the final years of his life, Ḵalili spent his time alone, abandoned by most of his family (Ṣafāʾi, p. 265), writing articles for journals and magazines such as Ṭehrān-e moṣavvar, Sepid o siāh, and Vaḥid (Behzādi, p. 210). He died of a heart attack in Tehran in 1971.
Poetry and translation. Ḵalili composed poems in both Persian and Arabic. Based on a readers’ survey in 1953, conducted by al-Moqtaṭef, an Arabic language magazine printed in Egypt, one of his poems was rated as the best among submitted poems (Behzādi, p. 202; Mahyār Ḵalili, p. 18). Among Ḵalili’s translations were 1,100 verses of Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma as well as several of Saʿdi’s poems into Arabic, which were published in Egypt and Lebanon. Zendāniān, his translation of Maxim Gorky’s The Prisoners, appeared in Tehran, 1931. Ḵalili also translated 14 volumes of Ebn al-Aṯir’s al-Kāmel fi’l-tāriḵ as Kāmel: Tāriḵ-e bozorg-e Eslām va Irān (The complete history of Islam and Iran), in seven volumes (ed. Mahyār Ḵalili, Tehran, n.d.). His translation of the first volume of Aḥmad Amin Meṣri’s Żohā al-eslām (The light of Islam), appeared as Partov-e eslām (3 vols., Tehran, 1936-37). Ḵalili also authored Kuroš-e bozorg (Cyrus the Great, Tehran, 1966) and Tāriḵ-e eslām o Irān (The history of Islam and Iran, Tehran, 1969).
Social novels. Ḵalili is among the most noted of the first generation of Iran’s social novelists whose works were influenced by the literary naturalism of European novelists like Emile Zola. Following Mošafeq Kāẓemi’s (1902-77) Tehrān-e maḵof (Horrible Tehran, Tehran, 1922), Ḵalili published four romantic novels in the 1920s dealing mostly with the unfair position of women in the early decades of the 20th century (Ārianpur, p. 264; Kamshad, p. 59). Ḵalili’s most acclaimed novel, Ruzgār-e siāh, which, like most of these novels, revolves around the tale of fallen women and plagued cities, received unprecedented attention and was reprinted after a short period of time (Ṣadr Hāšemi, p. 228). The protagonist of the novel, an educated woman from a wealthy family who has fallen into prostitution, narrates the story of her life to a novelist who, exhausted by political engagements, has taken refuge in a village. She talks about the bankruptcy and subsequent death of her father during Ḵiābāni’s (1880-1920) uprising in Tabriz in 1919, and the death of her brother in a battle with Mirzā Kuček Khan’s Jangali forces in 1920-21 (see jangali movement). In addition to losing her father and brother, the woman’s misfortunes continue when her mother’s second husband, a cleric, swindles her out of her inheritance. After being forced into an unsuitable marriage, she has numerous sexual relationships with government officials and army officers.
Following Ruzgār-e siāh, Ḵalili wrote a number of novels, including Enteqām (Revenge, Tehran, 1925), Asrār-e šab (Mysteries of the night, Tehran, 1926), Dāstān-e emruz (Today’s story, Tehran, 1931), Šārlot (Charlotte, Tehran, 1931), Čāl-e gāv (The pit of a cow, Tehran, 1931), Fajāyeʾ (Tragedies, Tehran, 1932), Bārān (Rain, Tehran, 1932), Ḵoruš (The roar, Tehran, 1954). Meanwhile, he also published a collection of stories called Ḵiālāt (Illusions, Tehran, 1930). Most of these works were published in the form of serials in Eqdām. Suffering from a preponderance of social commentary at the expense of plausibility and aesthetic considerations, none of these works became as popular as his first novel, Pir-Čāk-e Irāni (Iranian Pir-Chak, Tehran, 1922). Ḵalili’s sequel to his earlier detective story, Pir-Čāk-e Hendi (Indian Pir-Chak, Tehran, 1927), featured Reza Shah as the story’s protagonist (Behzādi, pp. 200-201). Unlike most of the novels of his era, Ḵalili’s works are relatively short in length. With the exception of Ensān (Mankind, Tehran, 1925), most of his novels follow a style similar to that of Ruzegār-e siāh (Ārianpur, p. 265). Ensān, however, is a noteworthy piece centered on a dialogue between the narrator and an elderly sage, in which they discuss their journey throughout the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Tehran (for a list of Ḵalili’s works, see Mošār, III, s.v.).
Ḵalili’s novels, in general, suffer from a flawed structure. Rather than providing the readers with a description of the scenes and events, he narrates the story like a passionate orator and curses humanity for its social and moral degeneration. In his stories, reminiscent of Alexander Dumas’s adventure novels, fiction and essay styles co-mingle, and a dark romanticism prevails. Asrār-e šab, composed in the form of letters written by the female protagonist, tells the story of a woman who has become a prostitute seeking revenge against men as a result of her husband’s betrayal (Ārianpur, p. 270). Similarly, in Enteqām, a woman is telling the story of her misfortunes to her son. His stories, which are usually narrated within a frame story, suffer from an unhappy blend of prose translations of European poetry and Persian romantic classical elements (Kamshad, p. 61), and are encumbered by obscure Arabic terms as well as obsolete and far-fetched literary allusions and metaphors (Ārianpur, p. 268).
Yaḥyā Ārianpur, Az Ṣabā tā Nimā, II, Tehran, 1971.
ʿAli Behzādi, Šebh-e Ḵāṭerāt, I, Tehran, 1996.
Moḥammad Golbon, “Pedar-e Simin,” in ʿAli Dehbāši, ed., Zani bā dāmani šeʿr: Jašn-nāma-ye Simin-e Behbahāni, Tehran, 2004, pp. 25-30.
ʿAbbās Ḵalili, ʿAbbās Ḵalili dar āʾina-ye tāriḵ: Ḵāṭerāt-e siāsi-e ʿAbbās Ḵalili (modir-e ruz-nāma-ye Eqdām), ed. Moḥammad Golbon, Tehran, 2001.
Mahyār Ḵalili, “Šarḥ-e moḵtaṣari az zendagi-e marḥum-e Abbās-e Ḵalili,” in ʿAbbās Ḵalili, 2001, pp. 17-21.
Hasan Kamshad, Modern Persian Prose Literature, Cambridge, 1966.
Aḥmad Movarreḵ-al-Dawla Sepehr, Iran dar jang-e bozorg 1914-1918, Tehran, 1957.
Moḥammad Ṣadr Hāšemi, Tāriḵ-e jarāyed o majallāt-e Irān, I, 2nd ed., Isfahan, 1984.
Ebrāhim Ṣafāʾi, Panjāh Ḵātera az panjāh sāl, Tehran, 1992.
Ṣafāʾ-al-Din Tabarrāʾiān, “Qiām-e Najaf ʿalayh-e Engelis va takvin-e Jamʿiyat-e nahżat-e eslāmi” in Tāriḵ-e moāʿṣer-e Irān, 1/1, 1987, pp. 9-49.
Originally Published: December 15, 2010
Last Updated: December 15, 2012
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Vol. XV, Fasc. 4, pp. 397-399