ḴĀVARI KĀŠĀNI, Sayyed AḤMAD Faḵr-al-Wāʿeẓin, Lesān-al-Eslām (b. Kashan, ca. 1854; d. Kashan, 1914), preacher, poet, journalist, and constitutional activist. He was born into a cultured family of Kāšāni poets and preachers; his mother, who may well have been his main literary influence, was a niece of notable Qajar poet and administrator, Fatḥ-ʿAli Khan Ṣabā Kāšāni (d. 1238/1822-23). His maternal grandfather, Ḥāji Mir Maʿṣum Ḵāvari Kuzakanāni, from whom Ḵāvari took his pen name, was also an accomplished poet and a favored member of Ṣabā’s literary circle. Up to age 18, Ḵāvari learned the fundamentals of traditional learning from his preacher father, Sayyed Hāšem Wāʿeẓ (Narāqi, pp. 17-20).
After his marriage at age 19 and his father’s death, Ḵāvari, in order to support the family, “became completely devoted to preaching and mastered the skills of the pulpit,” gradually gathering a group of loyal followers, who, as claimed by Ḵāvari himself (p. 135), treated him like a saint. In 1316/1898-99 he traveled to Tehran, and, perhaps through connections with the Ḡaffāri family of Kashan, he was introduced to Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah. The shah was reportedly impressed by his eloquence and gave him the titles Faḵr-al-wāʿeẓin (pride of preachers) and Lesān-al-Eslām (orator of Islam; Ḵāvari, pp. 135-36). Yet, through contact with other Kashani free thinkers in Tehran, he underwent a conversion of sorts and become an advocate of reform. He later expressed his despair over what he saw in Tehran, a microcosm of the country’s dire conditions, by comparing it to a house in ruin: “some are engaged in razing it to ground and others stealing from it. Its occupants are either in deep sleep, reveling in excessive pleasure, or fighting each other. The house owner is either singing a melody for those in sleep, joining in the revelry, helping the thieves, cheering the fighting, or encouraging those destroying it” (Ḵāvari, p. 136; Narāqi, p. 21). His preaching then became focused on a message of civil rights, “the need to adapt to modernity (asbāb-e tamaddon), an end to foreign dependency, and the necessity of limiting the excesses of state officials” (Ḵāvari, p. 136).
In 1317/1900, perhaps upon invitation from the same group of reformists from Kashan who had influenced his new ideas, Ḵāvari returned to Tehran to join a newly formed secret society aimed at promotion of individual, legitimate rights (ḥoquq-e mašruʿa-ye mellat; Ḵāvari, p. 137). This loosely formed group of activists, which later became a pro-constitution secret society, was part of the protest movement against the grand vizier ʿAli-Aṣḡar Khan Amin-al-Solṭān. For many, the latter’s return to power represented a return to oppressive rule under Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, an increase in foreign domination (represented by a new Russian loan), and a threat to the newly formed, semi-official, modern schools run by the Anjoman-e Mʿāref (q.v.), which advocated the introduction of Western-type education. The secret society’s “jellygraph” newspapers known as “night letters” (šab-nāma) contained strongly worded attacks on Amin-al-Solṭān, including a polemical poem by Ḵāvari, which labeled the grand vizier as coming from an Armenian decent (armanizāda), with loyalties to Russia (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, I, pp. 469-71; for Ḵāvari’s poem in praise of Amin-al-Solṭān’s assassin, see Browne, 1966, pp. 153-54). A copy of the publication was delivered to the royal quarters and led to the arrest and subsequent exile of some secret society members. Others, such as Ḵāvari, who was sent back to Kashan, were treated with leniency (Kasravi, pp. 24-28; Ḵāvari, p. 137). Among the notable society members, many came from Kashan, including Mehdi Khan Ḡaffāri, Qāʾem-maqām, also known as Wazir Homāyun, who at the time was the minister of post and telegraph and later played a key role in persuading the shah to sign the Constitutional Decree (Narāqi, pp. 27-28; Hedāyat, p. 144).
Upon return to Kashan in the early 1900s, Ḵāvari was isolated in the conservative city and came under attack for his reformist ideas, but he continued to broadcast his views using his mass appeal. In 1906 Ḵāvari was still influential enough to persuade Kashan’s leading mojtahed, Ḥāji Mirzā Faḵr-al-Din Narāqi (d. 1907), to join the ulama’s protest movement in Qom (15 July to 14 August 1906), immediately preceding the issuance of the Constitutional Decree (Ḵāvari, p. 137). Like that of other popular preachers of the period, Ḵāvari’s role as a talented communicator gave him considerable influence over more pedantic mojtaheds. According to Ḵāvari, most mojtaheds did not respond to a call for help by the two leading Constitutionalist mojtaheds, Sayyed ʿAbd-Allāh Behbahāni and Sayyed Moḥammad Ṭabāṭabāʾi, who had taken refuge in Qom. Ḵāvari accompanied Narāqi on this trip to Qom (Ḵāvari, p. 137) and later returned to Tehran to take part in the formative constitutional process as a member of Anjoman-e Fāṭemiya (Ḵāvari, pp. 137-38). He is known for his disinterest in factional politics during this period and for advocating unity and cooperation between the radical democrats and the conservative “moderates” (eʿtedāliyun) (Narāqi, pp. 36-37).
Nevertheless, Ḵāvari, apparently because of the hazards of political activity in Tehran, returned to Kashan on 23 January 1909 “out of necessity” (beḥasab-e lozum). There he came under attack by anti-constitutionalists and past revolutionary pretenders, who considered him the original advocate of the Constitution in Kashan and who “now swore by the Qurʾan that the constitutionalists were nothing but nonbelievers and offcasts (kāfer wa mardud; Ḵāvari, p. 138). Fearing for his life, Ḵāvari fled to Arāk and came under the protection of a group of a constitutional advocates, including Mirzā Ḥasan Khan, the son of his old secret society associate Mehdi Khan Ḡaffāri Wazir Homāyun (Ḵāvari, pp. 138-39). Four months later, due to an illness and in the midst of a civil war, Ḵāvari returned to Kashan. The city had now become a passageway for opposing armies engaged in the civil war, including royalists who took any opportunity to “execute and decimate [Kashan’s] freedom fighters” and made attempts on his life. Notably, it was the new appointed governor Mirzā Bāqer Khan Mokarram-al-Dawla who took him under his protection (Ḵāvari, pp. 139-40).
Ḵāvari spent the last few years of his life after the restoration of the Constitution working as a journalist. He edited the paparr Mizān, one of Iran’s first illustrated humor magazines, which he founded in Kashan in 1911. He also was the editor of the Kashan edition of Ṯorayyā (Browne, 1911, p. 144; Ṣadr Hāšemi, II, pp. 156-58, IV, p. 244). He died under suspicious circumstances shortly after visiting the home of Māšā-Allāh Khan Sālār, son of the rebel Nāyeb Ḥosayn of Kashan, who was known for his royalist loyalties (Narāqi, pp. 93-94).
Like his political views, Ḵāvari’s religious identity also underwent a transformation. He changed from a devout preacher who wrote poems lamenting the martyrdom of Shiʿite imams to someone with Bahāʾi sympathies or secret conviction. Though no direct link can be established for his Bahāʾi association, it is possible that he was influenced by his Kashani reformist associate and patron, Mehdi Khan Ḡaffāri Wazir Homāyun, who also became a Bahāʾi in the post- constitutional period. Ḵāvari admits his religious ambivalence in a poem: “Judge me not by my cloak and turban, as the beads I hold are mere necessity.” In a poem openly celebrating ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s arrival in Egypt in 1910, Ḵāvari asserts his devotion to him and his longing to meet him (Ḏokāʾi Bayżāʾi, I, pp. 315-23). In another poem Ḵāvari defends himself against allegations of “corruption of belief” (fesād-e ʿaqida), a euphemistic reference to his Bahāʾi beliefs: “Accuse me not of blasphemy, as I have long thrown off the cloak of piety” (Narāqi, pp. 43-44).
Ḵāvari’s mastery of the lyrical ḡazal is an indication of the sophistication of this poetic form during his period. However, most of his poetry is written in the typical popular, journalistic style of the time and conveys reformist social ideas in simple language for a mass audience. His Ketāb-e Maḥmud is an illustrated, rhymed treatise against opium (teryāk, afyun) addiction—an epidemic by the late nineteenth century, in part a consequence of the increase in local opium production. This book is dedicated to his son Maḥmud (also a preacher), later known as Ṣadr-al-Wāʿezin. In it he lists a wide variety of familiar vices (mażerrāt) resulting from drug use, from moral and mental decay to idleness, a decline in national economy, foreign domination, even sexual impotence. In a positivist view, he laments a nation in decline which has abandoned its commitment to true learning and a large majority of whom are either idle or engage in futile occupations. The intriguingly long list of unproductive professions and preoccupations include exorcists (jengir), amulet writers (doʿānevis), and fortunetellers (rammāl); addicts (moʿtād); actors (bāzigar), musicians (ḵonyāgar), dancers (raqqāṣ), drummers (čubakzan), and drumplayers (tombakzan); dervishes, wanderers (qalandar), snake charmers (mārgir), storytellers (naqqāl), magicians, rope dancers (rasanbāz), and jugglers (ḥoqqabāz); panegyrists (maddāḥ), poets, Qurʾan reciters (qāri), narraters of Karbalā tragedy (rawżaḵᵛān), orators (soḵanvar), and eulogists (ṯanāgar); bandits, swindlers, gamblers (qemārbāz), prostitutes, and pimps (qawwād). This state of affairs leaves agriculture and industry to a small, hard-working minority, who are themselves at risk of addiction to opium. This is a scenario for the nation’s complete destruction (Ḵāvari, pp. 69 ff.).
As a local preacher from Kashan, Ḵāvari has been mostly absent from the mainstream narrative of the Constitutional Revolution, a narrative often preoccupied with high-ranking mojtaheds, tribal leaders, and luṭis on both sides of the conflict. However, popular reform-minded preachers such as Ḵāvari played a key role in articulating a reformist message, which became the basis of a modern secular discourse.
Edward G. Browne, Press and Poetry of Modern Persia, Cambridge, 1914.
Neʿmat-Allāh Ḏokāʾi Bayżāʾi, Šoʿarā-ye qarn-e awwal-e Bahāʾi I, Tehran, 1965.
Mehdiqoli Moḵber-al-Salṭana Hedāyat, Ḵāṭerāt wa ḵaṭarāt, Tehran, 2nd. ed., 1965.
Aḥmad Kasravi, Tāriḵ-e mašruṭa-ye Irān, Tehran, 1976.
Sayyed Aḥmad Ḵāvari Kāšāni, Ketāb-e Maḥmud, Tehran, 1911.
Ḥasan Narāqi, Zendagi-nāma-ye Ḵāvari Kāšāni, Tehran, 1977.
Nāẓem-al-Eslām Kermāni, Tāriḵ-e bidāri-e Irāniān, ed. ʿAli-Akbar Saʿidi Sirjāni, 2 vols., Tehran, 1983.
Moḥammad Ṣadr Hāšemi, Tāriḵ-e jarāʾed wa majellāt-e Irān, 4 vols., Tehran, 1984.
Originally Published: May 31, 2013
Last Updated: April 4, 2013
This article is available in print.
Vol. XVI, Fasc. 2, pp. 135-136