KHALILI, Abbas (ʿAbbās Ḵalili, b. Najaf, 1895; d. Tehran, 1971), political activist, journalist, translator, poet and novelist.
Khalili was born to a prominent clerical family. His uncle, Hāj Mirzā Ḥosayn Ḵalili Ṭehrāni, was an influential Shiʿite cleric and the first among the clergy to support Iran’s Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911 (Ṣadr Hāšemi, p. 226). Khalili’s father educated him in Persian and Arabic languages and literature, and later, Khalili studied Islamic jurisprudence and philosophy in the seminaries of Najaf. He was also familiar with English language and literature.
When the British occupied Iraq after World War I, Iraqi religious authorities proclaimed jihad (Jehād) and founded the Movement for Islamic Revival (Jamʿiyat-e nahżat-e eslāmi). Khalili, although very young, was among the founders of the Movement and considered by some as its leader, as well as the “instigator of the anti-British revolution” in Iraq (Sepehr, p. 70; Āriānpur, p. 26; Ṣadr Hāšemi, p. 227). However, others believe that the then 22-year-old Khalili merely served as the Movement’s secretary (Tabarrāʾiān, p. 43; Mahyār Ḵalili, p. 17).
Following the assassination of Captain W. M. Marshall, the British political officer at Najaf, the British blockaded the city, executed a number of revolutionaries, and exiled many others. Khalili was also sentenced to death, but he fled to Iran and lived in Rašt for three years, using the pseudonym Shaikh ʿAli Fatā al-eslām. His Arabic accent caused some to call him Ḵalili-e ʿArab (Khalili 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 identity and began working as an Arabic translator for Raʿd, a newspaper published by Sayyed Żiāʾ al-Din Ṭabāṭabāʾi (Mahyār Ḵalili, pp. 17-8). Afterwards, with the help of Sayyed Żiāʾ, he was put in charge of the Baladiya, a journal that appeared forty days before the passage of the Municipality Act of June 1907. He was also involved with Bahār, a Persian literary, scientific, and political monthly founded by Yusof Eʿteṣām-al-Molk (1874-1938,). After Sayyed Żiāʾ left Iran, Khalili founded Eqdām, a newspaper covering news and social issues, which was initially published three times a week and later daily. Khalili’s editorial articles, which reflected his opposition to the presence of foreign powers in Iran, led to several suspensions of the newspaper, though it continued to be published under a variety of names such as Bidāri and Qiām-e be ḥaqq. In 1927, Eqdām was shut down along with many other Persian newspapers, (Ṣadr Hāšemi, p. 227).
Khalili was a confidant and influential supporter of Reżā Khan Sardār Sepah, the later Reżā Shah (r. 1925-41), and was involved in the rivalry between Sardār Sepah and Sayyed Ḥasan Modarres (d. 1937), noted political cleric and leader of the minority faction in the Majles, who played a crucial role in the politics of the era. His articles in Eqdām “contributed to the overthrow of the Qajar dynasty and the coming to power of Sardār Sepah,” (Khalili, p. 159). After Moḥammad Reżā Shah (r. 1941-79) succeeded his father to the Pahlavi throne, Khalili maintained close relations with the Shah and such influential political figures as Aḥmad Qavām (Behzādi, p. 209). In 1945 he was harassed and beaten by supporters of Iran’s Communist Party (Ḥezb-e Tuda). Although Khalili primarily favored the formation of the National Front (Jebha-ye Melli) in 1950, with the conflict between the Shah and the National Front becoming increasingly severe, he left the Front (Ābrāhimiān, p. 228). In 1949 he was appointed as Iranian ambassador to Yemen and Ethiopia. After his return, he was appointed to the board of Iran Fishery Company (Šerkat-e sahāmi-e šilat-e Iran).
From 1922 to 1929 Khalili worked as a translator in the Bureau of Legal Regulation (Edāra-ye qavānin) of the Ministry of Justice. In 1927, with the introduction of a new and systematically vigilant form of state censorship, Eqdām was closed, and Khalili spent the next two decades working as a businessman and writing novels. The abdication of Reżā Shah in 1941 was followed by a rare period of freedom of expression. In this short-lived period “readers became increasingly interested in passionately written articles--a style mastered by Khalili” (Behzādi, pp. 200-202). For several years, Eqdām was among the most widely circulated newspapers in the country. However, with the increasing number of available publications, Khalili’s editorial pieces, with their marked romantic overtones, lost their position of favor among Persian readers. Eqdām was permanently closed in 1949 (Parvin p. 520; Behzādi, p. 203).
Khalili also composed poems in Persian and Arabic. Based on a survey of the readers’ opinion in 1953, conducted by Al-moqtatef, an Arabic language magazine printed in Egypt, one of his poems was rated best among submitted poems (Behzādi, p. 202). In addition, Khalili’s Arabic translations of 1,100 lines of Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma, as well as several of Saʿdi’s poems were published in Egypt and Lebanon. Khalili translated 14 volumes of Ebn al-Aṯir’s (1160-1233) al-Kāmel fi’l-tāriḵ. His translation of Aḥmad Amin’s (1886-1945) book on the history of early Islamic culture-- Fajr al-eslām (The Dawn of Islam, 1929), Żoḥā al-eslām (The Forenoon of Islam, 1933-1936), and Ẓohr al-eslām (The Noon of Islam, 1944-1955)--was published under the title of Partow-e eslām (1936-1956). Zendāniān, his translation of Maxim Gorky’s The Prisoners, appeared in 1931. Khalili also authored Tāriḵ-e eslām o Irān (The History of Islam and Iran, 1969) and Kuroš-e bozorg (Cyrus the Great, 1966).
Khalili is among the most prolific and the noted in the first generation of Iran’s social novelists whose works, influenced by the European novelists like Emile Zola (Yavari, p. 582-83), and following Mošfeq Kāẓemi’s (1902-77) Tehrān-e maḵuf (The Horrible Tehran, 1922), a two-volume romantic novel dealing mostly with the unfair position of women in the early decades of the 20th century, appeared in the1940s (Āriānpur, p. 264; Kamshad, p. 59). Khalili’s most acclaimed novel, Ruzegār-e siāh (The Black Time, 1924), which like most of these social novels, revolves around the tale of fallen women and plagued cities, received considerable attention, and was reprinted after a short period of time (Ṣadr Hāšemi, p. 228). It was translated by Konstantine Tchapikine into Russian. The protagonist of the novel, an educated woman from a wealthy family who has ended up as a prostitute, 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 the subsequent death of her father during the uprising of Ḵiābāni (1880-1920) in Tabriz, and the death of her brother in a battle with Mirzā Kuček Khan Jangali’s forces 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 employees and officers in the army, professions increasingly prevalent in modern Iranian society. Following Ruzegār-e siāh, Khalili wrote a number of novels including Enteqām (Revenge, 1925), Asrār-e šab (The Mysteries of Night, 1926), Dāstān-e emruz (Today’s Story, 1931), Šārlot (Charlotte, 1931), Čāl-e gāv (The Pit of a Cow, 1931), Fajāyeʿ (Tragedies, 1932), Bārān (Rain, 1932), Ḵoruš (The Roar, 1954) and a collection of stories called Ḵiālāt (Illusions, 1930). Most of these stories were serialized in Eqdām. Suffering from overindulgence in social commentary at the expense of plausibility and aesthetic considerations, none of them became as popular as his first novel. Pirčak-e Irāni (1922), Khalili’s sequel to his earlier detective story, Pirčāk-e Hendi (1927), featured Reżā Shah as the story’s protagonist (Behzādi, pp. 200-1). Unlike most of the novels of his era, Khalili’s works are relatively short in length. With the exception of Ensān (Mankind, 1925), most of his novels follow a style similar to that of Ruzegār-e siāh (Āriānpur, 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.
Khalili’s novels, with few stylistic innovations, generally suffer from a flawed structure. Rather than providing the readers with a description of the scenes and events, the author presides over the story like a passionate orator, and curses humanity for its social and moral degeneration. In his stories, reminiscent of Alexander Dumas’ adventure novels, fiction and essay delimit each other 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 (Āriānpur, p. 270). Similarly, in Enteqām, a woman is telling the story of her misfortunes to her son. Khalili’s stories, which are usually encased 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 (Āriānpur, p. 268).
Khalili had a turbulent personal life; he was married four times and had several children including Simin Behbahāni (1927-), eminent poet, whose mother Faḵr ʿOzma ʿArḡun, Khalili’s second wife, was a writer, translator, and women’s rights activist as well as the editor of a newspaper entitled Āyanda-ye Irān (Golbon, p. 26). In the final years of his life, Khalili was abandoned by his family (Ṣafāʾi, p. 265) and spent his time alone, 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.
Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, Princeton, 1982 (tr. into Persian by Kāẓem Firuzmand et al., as Iran bayn-e do enqelāb, Tehran, 1995).
Yaḥyā Āriānpur, Az Ṣabā tā Nimā (From Saba to Nima),Vol. II, Tehran, 1971.
ʿAli Behzādi, Šebh-e ḵāṭerāt, Vol. I, Tehran, 1996.
Moḥammad Golbon, “Pedar-e Simin,” in ʿAli Dehbāši, ed. Zani bā dāmani šeʿr: jašn-nāma-ye Simin Behbehāni, Tehran, 2004.
ʿAbbās Ḵalili, Dar āʾina-ye tāriḵ: ḵāṭerāt-e siāsi (In the mirror of history: political memoirs), ed. Moḥammad Golbon, Tehran, 2001.
Mahiār Ḵalili, “Šarḥ-e moḵtaṣari az zendegi-e marḥum-e ʿAbbās Ḵalili” in Moḥammad Golbon, ed. Dar āʾina-ye tāriḵ, Tehran, 2001.
Anvar Ḵāme-i, Ḵaṭerāt-e ruznāma negār (The memoirs of a journalist), Tehran, 1999.
Hasan Kamshad, Modern Persian Prose Literature, Cambridge, 1966.
Moḥsen Nāji Naṣr Ābād, ed. Fehrest-e ketābha-ye fārsi šoda-ye čāpi, Vol. IV, Mashad, 2002.
Nassereddin Parvin, “EQDĀM,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. III.
Movarreḵ˚ al-Dawla Sepehr, Iran dar jang-e bozorg 1914-1918 (Iran in the world war 1914-1918), Tehran, 1957.
Moḥammad Ṣadr Hāšemi, Tāriḵ-e jarāyed va majallāt-e Irān (The history of the Persian press), Vol. I, 2nd ed., Isfahan, 1984.
Ebrāhim Ṣafāʾi, Panjāh ḵātera az panjāh sāl (Fifty memoirs and fifty years), Tehran, 1992.
Ṣafā al-Din Tabarrāʾiān, “Qiām-e Najaf ʿalayha Engelis va takvin-e jamʿiyat-e nahżat-e eslāmi” Tariḵ-e moʿāṣer-e Irān, (Contemporary history of Iran), Vol. I, 1997.
Originally Published: April 20, 2009
Last Updated: April 20, 2009