Majd-al-Eslām was son of Āqā Yusof, a descendant of Ḵāndānqoli Beg Afšār, the lieutenant governor of Kerman under the Safavids, who was killed by Nāder Shah Afšār (Waziri, II, pp. 668-70). He received his primary education at a traditional school (maktab-ḵāna) that had been established by Ḵāndānqoli Beg (Bāstāni Pārizi, 1990, p. 292). The despotic rule of Abu Ḥamid Mirzā Nāṣer-al-Dawla in Kerman drove him to leave Kerman. He went to Isfahan in 1890 to follow the direction of his fellow citizens Mirzā Āqā Khan Kermāni (1853-96) and Shaikh Aḥmand Ruḥi (1855-96), two influential figures in the Iranian Constitutional movement. In Isfahan, Masʿud Mirzā Ẓell-al-Solṭān’s rule, despite his strict despotism, had provided favorable conditions for intellectual figures to develop their liberal ideas (Bāstāni Pārizi, in Sirjāni, pp. 170, 205; idem, 2001, p. 23).
The presence of intellectual communities, libraries, modern schools, and newspapers such as the weekly Farhang (founded by order of Ẓell-al-Solṭān) in the religious setting of Isfahan presented Majd-al-Eslām with a conflicting situation. He was studying under the tutelage of mullas (clerical teachers), whose power equaled that of Ẓell-al-Soltan, the prince governor. This contradiction influenced Majd-al-Eslām’s manner of life. While continuing his education in Islamic jurisprudence and religion (Majd-al-Eslām, 1972, p. 5; Ketābi, p. 319), he communicated with intellectuals and active modernists like Mirzā Naṣr-Allāh Malek-al-Motakallemin (1860-1908) and Sayyed Jamāl-al-Din Wāʿeẓ Eṣfahāni (1862-1908; see Yaḡmāʾi, p. 53; Malekzāda, 1994, I, p. 182).
Facing the challenge of modernity and tradition, Majd-al-Eslām moved towards a career in journalism in a dynamic milieu of aspiration for modernity. His connection with the Taraqqi Association (Anjoman-e taraqqi), as one of its founders (Malekzāda, 1994, I p. 202), and with Šerkat-e Eslāmiya (1899), as well as his activity in writing articles for the newspapers Ṯorayyā, Parvareš, and Ḥabl al-matin, paved the way for him to become one of the leading journalists in the era of the Constitutional Revolution (Majd-al-Eslām, 1971, p. x; idem, 1972, pp. xi, 313; Malekzāda, 1946, p. 202; Kaškul, 20 April 1907, p. 2; ʿAlawi, p. 97; Najafi, p. 28). Majmaʿ-e āzād-mardān was one of the first liberal groups that familiarized him with the journalists of that time (Kohn, 1984, p. 188; Ṣadr Hāšemi, I, p. 209). His cooperation with Sayyed Jamāl-al-Din Wāʿeẓ Eṣfahāni and Malek-al-Motakallemin in writing Roʾyā-ye ṣādeqa in criticizing the absolute power of Ẓell-al-Solṭān and the religious leaders in Isfahan resulted in his flight to Tehran in 1901 (Majd-al-Eslām, 1972, p. xii; Jamālzāda, p. 120; Malekzāda, 1946, pp. 48, 158).
Majd-al-Eslām worked on Adab newspaper for two years from 1904 to 1906 before he was exiled, in June 1906, with Mirzā Ḥasan Khan Rošdiya and Mirzā Āqā Eṣfahāni, to Kalāt-e Nāderi in Khorasan because of associating with liberal groups and criticizing the autocratic rule of Abd-al-Majid Mirzā ʿAyn-al-Dawla, the prime minister (Majd-al-Eslām, 1971, pp. 97-98; Rošdiya, pp. 96-97; Kasravi, p. 89; Browne, 1966, p. 116; Ṣadr Hāšemi, IV, pp. 291-93; Nāẓem-al-Eslām, II, pp. 426-40; Ḏāker Ḥosayn, p. 47). The three were released after ʿAyn-al-Dawla was replaced by Mirzā Naṣr-Allāh Khan Mošir-al-Dawla (August 1906) and the Majles was established (Ṣadr Hāšemi, IV, p. 294).
Shortly after his release from Kalāt, Majd-al-Eslām resumed his career as a journalist with the publication of the weekly Nedā-ye waṭan to introduce the basic concepts of the constitution (Moḥiṭ Ṭabāṭabāʾi, p. 192; Ṣadr Hāšemi, IV, pp. 288-90; Browne, 1914, p. 148). Its first issue was published on 27 December 1906 (11 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 1324). He also founded the paper al-Jamāl on 11 March 1907 (26 Moḥarram 1325) to publish the sermons (ḵoṭba) of Sayyed Jamāl-al-Din Wāʿeẓ, an active, expressive liberal cleric (Ṣadr Hāšemi, I, pp. 248-52; Browne, 1914, pp. 69-70). Kaškul, a weekly paper, was published by him in Tehran from 30 March 1907 to 2 July 1908 (15 Ṣafar 1325-27 Jomādā I 1326); it was a cartoon newspaper that criticized the political and social problems with humor. Majd-al-Eslām also published the paper Moḥākamāt beginning on on 28 June 1907 (17 Jomādā I 1325), as an organ of the Ministry of Justice in which the proceedings of the law courts were publicized (Ṣadr Hāšemi, IV, pp. 138-40, 192-94; Browne, 1914, pp. 127, 135; Qāsemi, pp. 329-30).
Majd-al-Eslām also was the author of Tāriḵ-e enḥeṭāṭ-e Majles, in which he narrated the causes of the estebdād-e ṣaḡir (“lesser tyranny” of June 1908-July 1909; see CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION ii. Events, sec. “The shah’s coup d’etat of 1326/1908”), a brief dictatorial period when many papers were banned, but he managed to publish Nedā-ye waṭan from 8 July to 20 August 1909 (Kamāli and Ḥājiḥaydari, p. 101).
Majd-al-Eslām went to Isfahan to republish Kaškul in 1909, but his trip was criticized by radical constitutionalists, who called it an attempt to reconcile people to the tyrannical reign of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah. According to Nāẓem-al-Eslām (II, p. 317), he was persuaded by the Russians to go there with the intention to draw the public towards the Russians. This event, as well as his advocacy of moderation, caused the radical constitutionalists to sentence him to five years in prison in August 1909; but, due to the mediation of some of his friends among the constitutionalists, he was instead exiled to Kerman (Majd-al-Eslām, 1929, pp. 2-4; Malekzāda, 1994, VI, p. 1279).
In spite of many imposed limitations in Kerman, Majd-al-Eslām managed to keep publishing the paper Dār al-amān, with Mirzā Hādi Eṣfahāni as its chief editor, but later on he turned it over to another group of journalists (Razmārā, p. 28; Wezārat-e Maʿāref wa Awqāf wa Ṣanāyeʿ-e Mostaẓrafa, no. 1406, 17 February 1917). Moreover, he was appointed as the director of public and trade affairs of Kerman for one year in 1916, and he also served as the head of Kerman department of education (The Ministry of Public Affairs, no. 869, 24 August 1916; Majdal-Eslām, 1972, p. v). He spent his last years of life completing his works, Tāriḵ-e enḥeṭāt-e Majles and Safar-nāma-ye Kalāt. He died in Kerman in 1923 and was buried in Dargāh-e Ḵāndānqoli Beg, his family tomb in Kerman.
Majd-al-Eslām’s presence in social and political activities of the constitutional era has been judged by various scholars. His relation with ʿAyn-al-Dawla before his exile to Kalāt is one of the main challenging points in his political life. Aḥmad Kasravi states that he was on ʿAyn-al-Dawla’s payroll and worked for him as a spy (rāportči); but, foreseeing the progress of constitutional activists, he began to speak ill of ʿAyn-al-Dawla in the hope of securing a position for himself among them (Kasravi, 1997, p. 89). Considering Majd-al-Eslām’s relations with ʿAyn-al-Dawla, Nāẓem-al-Eslām Kermāni emphasizes that Majd-al-Eslām’s articles in Adab “informed people about courtier’s embarrassing deeds” (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, II, pp. 360-61). In correspondence with Nāẓem-al-Eslām Kermāni, Majd-al-Eslām denies any kinds of “relations” with ʿAyn-al-Dawla (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, II, p. 371), not to mention the fact ʿAyn-al-Dawla did not allow Majd-al-Eslām to have his own independent newspaper (Majd-al-Eslām, 1972, p. xi).
Majd-al-Eslām’s travel to Isfahan during the estebdād-e ṣaḡir period is another challenging part of his political life. Nāẓem-al-Eslām’s descriptions of Majd-al-Eslām’s travel to Isfahan are contradictory—on a mission of “awakening people and exciting the nation,” as the representative of government to “serve in other cities,” or in the service of Russia by persuading people towards Russia’s objectives (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, II, pp. 300, 301, 317). According to Nāẓem-al-Eslām, Majd-al-Eslām in Isfahan was mardud al-ṭarafayn, that is, repelled by both Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah’s adherents and the constitutionalists (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, II, 348); however, Nāẓem-al-Eslām considers Majd-al-Eslām “the informer of one of the Russian journalists and not of the Russian government” to defend him against this accusation (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, II, p. 348). In Kaškul, published in Isfahan from 3 April to 15 July 1909 (12 Rabiʿ I-26 Jomādā II 1327), Majd-al-Eslām follows his old concerns to elaborate on different concepts of a constitution (Kaškul, no. 8, 29 May 1909, p. 4).
His relation with Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah is one of the complicated parts of Majd-al-Eslām’s political life. The fact that he received a pledge of security (amān-nāma) and permission to publish Nedā-ye waṭan—granted by Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah during the estebdād-e ṣaḡir period (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, II, pp. 180, 193)—put him in a different situation form that of many other constitutionalists whose journals were banned. In Nedā-ye waṭan Majd-al-Eslām elaborates on constitutional monarchy in comparison to absolute monarchy in order to specify the position of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah in the political structure (Nedā-ye waṭan, no. 159, 19 January 1908, p. 1). He published pictures of Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah and Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah in the first and second issues of Nedā-ye waṭan respectively (Ṣadr Hāšemi, IV, p. 289), and then asked other journalists not to use harsh terms in their criticism of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah and his family, which might jeopardize the young seedling of the constitution (Nedā-ye waṭan, no 133, 6 December 1907, p. 2). Meanwhile, being aware of sabotage measures of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah in the outset of the estebdād-e ṣaḡir period, Majd-al-Eslām asks him to be “the true servant and protector of the nation” and discourages him from opposing the Majles (Nedā-ye waṭan, no. 161, 21 January 1908, pp. 1, 6). In his Tāriḵ-e enḥeṭāt-e Majles (p. 259), he specifies that the conspiracy measures of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah and his courtiers eventually led to the fall of the constitution.
Majd-al-Eslām, whose religious studies in Kerman and Isfahan would have led him to become a theologian eventually, chose to be a journalist—a path that separated him from his companion, Sayyed Jamāl-al-Din Wāʿeẓ Eṣfahāni. The latter was an eminent constitutionalist, who preached the idea of freedom through his sermons delivered from the pulpit. But Majd-al-Eslām’s publication of the sermons of Sayyed Jamāl-al-Din in the paper al-Jamāl reflects his strong belief in political freedom as well as the publisher’s awareness of the peculiar capacities of this modern medium, the press, in comparison to traditional ones (al-Jamāl, 13 Moḥarram 1325/26 February 1907, p. 1).
Majd-al-Eslām was co-author of Roʾyā-ye ṣādeqa (St. Petersburg, 1903), a brief book (ca. 55 pages) in which the social and political conditions of Isfahan under Ẓell-al-Solṭān is criticized in harsh, humorous language. Even Āqā Najafi Eṣfahāni, a leading theologian of the city, was not spared. The work narrates a dream about the day of resurrection describing the trial of Isfahan’s religious and political leaders before God. The first wrongdoers sentenced to hell are reactionary (mortajeʿ) mullas who prevented establishment of modern schools or teaching of new sciences (Yaḡmāʾi, p. 327). Ẓell-al-Solṭān and other political figures are sentenced for “increasing poverty, beggary, and ignorance” as well as disrupting the affairs of the Šerkat-e Eslāmiya, a company established in Isfahan with the express intention of actively promoting the use of textiles produced in Iran, particularly those from its own mills (Yaḡmāʾi, p. 325). It also referred to banning newspapers as one of the common accusations of all sentenced individuals: “If there had been newspapers to express your evil manners and wickedness, and if people had not been ignorant … the conditions would have been more satisfactory” (Yaḡmāʾi, p. 323)
Majd-al-Eslām, who had witnessed the effects of written media manifested in Isfahan by Roʾyā-ye ṣādeqa, commenced his career as a proficient journalist in Adab in 1902-04. Adab, an illustrated weekly journal established by a major poet of the time, Adib-al-Mamālek Farāhāni, was first published in Tabriz (Šaʿbān 1316/December 1898) and then in Mašhad, before starting publication in Tehran on 19 October 1903 (27 Rajab 1321), as a “scientific, literary, political, commercial, and historical journal.” During Adib-al-Mamālek’s stay in Baku in 1905, Majd-al-Eslām was appointed its chief editor (Adab, no. 149, 30 May 30 1905, p. 1; Ṣadr Hāšemi, I, pp. 89-94; Browne, 1914, p. 39).
One of the basic concerns of Majd-al-Eslām was to spread knowledge, a notion expressed through foreign and national news in Adab. In the article “Wojud-e mardom-e dānā besān-e zar-e nāb ast” (Knowledgeable people as pure gold), he refers to the French Revolution to emphasize the idea that knowledge is the only way for Iran’s development: “It is certain that no nation comes to the pinnacle of success, unless it climbs the ladder of knowledge; nations fall into the abyss of humiliation, unless they walk in the darkness of ignorance” (Adab, no. 146, 6 March 1905, p. 2). Indicating the victory of Japan over Russia in 1905, he encouraged the Iranian people to analyze the causes of the Japanese victory in order “to remember their own grandeur and eliminate the present humble situation.” He also started publishing portrait drawings of famous Iranians and worldwide social figures in order to familiarize people with their names and achievements, a major innovation that he initiated in Adab and continued in Nedā-ye waṭan. What is more, he published cartoons to portray various social and cultural problems, mainly the conflict between tradition and modernity, and disorder in urban system (Kamāli and Ḥājiḥaydari, p. 55).
Nedā-ye waṭan, the principal paper published by Majd-al-Eslām, was established in December 1906 during the Constitutional Revolution. His objective was to demonstrate the basic concepts of constitutional monarchy for those engaged in the new structures of power such as the Majles and social communities. In the first issue published on 27 December 1906, Majd-al-Eslām praised Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah and celebrated the victory of the revolution, but he also emphasized that people scarcely knew the true meaning of constitutional monarchy: “People do not know the meaning of freedom; they believed that freedom is to leave the world of rulership and religion. Legal religious liberty is just limited, and there is no nation as constrained as a free nation” (Nedā-ye waṭan, p. 1; Ṣadr Hāšemi, IV, pp. 288-90; Browne, 1914, p. 148).
Financial and military affairs were two basic subjects covered in Nedā-ye waṭan (Kamāli and Ḥājiḥaydari, p. 109). Referring to disorder in these affairs, he proposed that the Majles should establish a national bank in order to provide the country with a measure of independence from foreign countries by investing in national industries, such as those of the military system (Nedā-ye waṭan, no. 41, 22 June 1907, p. 2). Moreover, he proposed the establishment of a national army to replace the Cossack Brigade that had been developed under Russian officers (Nedā-ye waṭan, no. 124, 2 November 1907, p. 3).
Majd-al-Eslām found out that, as long as people did not know the functions of constitutional monarchy, they would not be able to change their social and political structures and so they would revert to a tyrannical system of power; “The only way for an oppressed group to overcome tyrants is to establish its rule in society” (Nedā-ye waṭan, no. 124, 2 November 1907, p. 5). Considering the Iranian government as a constitutional monarchy, he referred to radical measures of constitutionalists and asked them to follow the rules: “The representatives who are the protector of the constitution should not perform tyrannical deeds, or consider themselves aware of everything” (Nedā-ye waṭan, no. 46, 10 July 1907). His comment “I swear that each time people are provoked and about to riot, the neighboring countries will approach our country; as one of the political figures says, each time the news of Iranian violence is published, the telegraph wire in [St.] Petersburg will ring” (Nedā-ye waṭan, no. 244, 4 May 1907, p. 2) sounds like a clairvoyant warning about the bombardment of the Majles building in 1908. His advocacy of moderation and persistent criticism of the radical tendencies of the constitutionalists caused his isolation from a large number of his former associates in their efforts to achieve liberty and modernization.
Majd-al-Eslām, who was aware of the potential of cartoons for conveying hidden points, established the weekly paper Kaškul as a cartoon journal to attract a larger number of readers, especially the illiterate, who would receive the message through drawings. He specified his objective in publishing Kaškul in its first issue on 15 Ṣafar 1325/30 March 1907: “After one thousand years of thinking and contemplation, the wise people of the world agreed that the best means to purify the ethics of the society and to spread civilization and culture is to display evil deeds of the people and show them their wrongdoings; in this way, they are encouraged to develop goodness and are prevented from performing evil deeds. To do so, two simple means of manifestation have been created, namely theater, with music and dance to attract people, as well as fantasy pictures called cartoons.” Then, with regard for the fact that theatrical plays were illegal in Islam, he concludes that cartoons were the best means of conveying his message (Kaškul, p. 1; Ṣadr Hāšemi, IV, pp. 135-36).
The cartoons of Kaškul, drawn by Ḥosayn-ʿAli Naqš-bāši and Mirzā ʿAli, were based on popular comic characters like Mollā Naṣr-al-Din, who was familiar to ordinary people, in order to facilitate the transition of the message. Cartoons were supplemented by discourses composed in a simple language criticizing the ongoing social and political conditions of Iran. In addition, they introduced the basic concepts of constitutional monarchy, such as freedom, justice, and law.
Majd-al-Eslām would also address the municipality (baladiya) by pointing to problems in the city. In the article “Dād wa bidād” (Justice and injustice), he makes references to the urban system of the large cities in the world to criticize the disorganized conditions of cities in Iran: “The conditions of roads in cities are so awful that if somebody walks there, he will sink in mud in winter, and he will see nothing in summer because of dusty air” (Kaškul, no. 5, 13 April 1907, p. 2).
The concept of justice, one of the basic concerns of Majd-al-Eslām, was seriously addressed in Moḥākamat (see above), in which the trials of different figures of political and social status were published to familiarize its readers with what was going on in courts. In the “Manẓuma-ye šahr-e ḵāmušān,” a poem he composed in the last years of his life, he narrates his persistent, useless attempts to prove his land rights in court (Majd-al-Eslām, 1972, p. xii).
Having been exiled to Kerman, he published his last journal, Dār al-āman, in order to pursue his basic concerns about the constitution. In the article “Ahamiyat-e enteḵābāt” (The importance of election), he specifies election as the main distinction between tyrannical and constitutional authority: “Nowadays, the representatives of the Majles and ministers know that the basis of success is election” (Dār al-āman, no. 1, 6 July 1911, p. 1). Referring to the short history of the Iranian constitution, he emphasized that the structure of power has not changed, and only the agents have been replaced by new ones.
Writing was Majd-al-Eslām’s daily preoccupation. Safar-nāma-ye Kalāt was the souvenir of his exile in Kalāt-e Nāderi at the dawn of the Constitutional Revolution in 1907. While narrating the events of his exile, he describes the history of Kalāt as well as the conditions of the society he witnessed there. He specified the ignorance of people about their rights as the main reasons for lack of development in Iran: “Iranians do not know their rights … If they had known their rights, they would never have paid taxes while they had no security … Taxes must be spent on maintaining security and people’s facilities” (Majd-al-Eslām, 1971, p. 315). He looked for the main reasons for the decadence of the Majles, not in Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah’s activities, but in the radical deeds of various groups of constitutionalists. He criticized all classes of officials for not considering the exact meaning of the constitution: “The Iranian people established a constitution while a large number of them did not know its particulars. They felt no need to know them” (Majd-al-Eslām, 1972, p. 128). Classifying Iranian people into different categories of Majles representatives, communities, guilds, and ordinary people, he analyzed their proceedings that led to the estebdād-e ṣaḡir (Majd-al-Eslām, 1972, pp. 31, 49). The chief criticized group were the journalists, like Mirzā Jahāngir Khan Širāzi, the chief director of Ṣur-e Esrāfil, and Solṭān-al-ʿOlamāʾ Ḵorāsāni, the founder and editor of Ruḥ-al-qodos, whose “harsh insults” to Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah and other members of the Qajar family led to the bombardment of Majles (Mirzā Jahāngir Khan Širāzi, p. 80; Ruḥ-al-qodos, no. 1, 5 August 1907, p. 1; Ṣur-e Esrāfil, no. 1, 30 May 1907, p. 3). Other factors included the reactionary proceedings of some religious figures (Majd-al-Eslām, 1972, pp. 254-55).
Additional images from Kaškul:
Figure 2. Modern organizations like Public companies and National Bank: The cartoon represents the people hesitant to trust modern economic organizations (Kaškul, no. 1, 30 March 1907, pp. 2-3).
Figure 3. The Constitutional Monarchy: To maintain the Constitutional Monarchy as an ideal political system, the king and people are considered as two sides of the same scale whose balance is dependent on the king’s and the people’s commitment to their identified duties (Kaškul, no.9, 8 June 1907, p. 4).
Figure 4. Abolition of fief (Tiyoul): In this cartoon while assaulting the fief holders, people thank the King and Majlis representatives for abolition of this unfair system (Kaškul, no. 8, 4 June 1907, p. 4).
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Originally Published: January 1, 2000
Last Updated: April 21, 2014