The Tobacco Revolution
Ayatollah Haj Mirza Mohammad Hasan Shirazi was one of Shi’ite scientists. In 1248 AH, as a youth, he left his hometown for Shiraz City where he studied both rational and traditional sciences. In 1295 AH, he left for the sacred thresholds in Iraq where he enjoyed Sheikh Morteza Ansari’s guidance. In 1291 AH, he settled down in Samarra and he taught till he passed away in 1312 AH. His body was taken to Najaf Ashraf and buried there. The historic verdict of this honorable clergyman on Tobacco abolishing nipped the disaster of the year 1309 AH in the bud.
In 1891, the Tobacco concession was awarded to the British by Nasereddin Shah Qajar; however, the following turns of events fold the British attempt to follow through.
Nasereddin Shah liked traveling to Europe so much and used to travel there for three times. In his last trip dated 1889 he traveled to Britain. Due to Shah’s extravagance during the trip which was encouraged by Aminossoltan, Nasereddin Shah’s chancellor, he was left with no money for spending and leading his Epicurean life style. Therefore; he gave the concession of Tobacco products to a British calledMajor Talbot
and in turn received some money to enjoy his extravagance.
Talbot was one of the advisors to the British Prime Minister. The two sides sat around the table of negotiations in Berating City where Talbot through bribing the courtiers such as Aminossoltan could win the agreement of the Shah on the issue. The promised price was 25,000 Liras
. After the Shah’s return, Talbot came to Iran to get the project started. According to the agreement, the company calledRegie
was to pay 15,000 Liras yearly to Iran and enjoy the possession of Tobacco product plantation and sale concession. It implied the fact that the products werecheaply bought and expensively sold
After the agreement was signed, the staff of the British company came to Iran and they went to different cities of Iran. However; people did not let them in. The people of the major cities like Shiraz, Tabriz, Isfahan and Tehran showed opposition reactions. Finally for these reasons Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi issued the abolition of tobacco concession and Britain could not succeed in this action.Brigadier General Sir Percy Sykes
, wrote the following passage in his book, History of Persia (3rd edition, printed 1930), regarding the futile formation of the Tobacco Corporation in Iran.
"Less fortunate than the Imperial Bank of Persia was the fate of the Tobacco Regie. This ill-judged concession gave full control over the production, sale, and export of all tobacco in Persia. In return for these rights a sum of £15,000 was to be paid annually to the Shah; in addition, after the working expenses and 5 per cent had been set aside, His Majesty was to receive one quarter of the profits. The concession affected the position of tobacco growers, sellers, and smokers alike; and in Persia both men and women smoke regularly. Its gross unfairness was aggravated by the fact that many of the employees were drawn from a somewhat low class and by the lack of tact displayed in dealing with Persian rights. In short, first public indignation and then fanaticism was aroused. Haji Mirza Hasan Shirazi, the leading Mujtahid, placed an interdict on smoking, and the order was obeyed throughout the land, the royal palace being no exception. Finally, after disturbances had broken out and intense hostility had been displayed towards Europeans, the Shah cancelled the concession and agreed to pay compensation to the extent of half a million sterling. This sum was borrowed from the Imperial Bank of Persia and may be considered to constitute the beginning of the Persian National Debt."
The Issue of Tobacco Sanction by Ayatollah Shirazi
Ayatollah Shirazi worte a letter to Shah and asked him to abolish the concession but he ignored Mirza’s order. Thus Mirza issued a fatwa:
In the name of God, the bneficient, the merciful
Today, the use of tobacco is the same to war with Imam Mahdi (pbuh).
This fatwa caused a semi-revolution movement among people; they stop usong tobacco, the tobacco shops close and everybody break the hookahs. They stop dealing with Regie Corporation. This continued till an announcement was sticken to city walls: “according to Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi, up 48 hours the concession must be abolished or people would get ready for a Jihad on Monday.”
Shah resorted to force and tried to threaten the scholars and people by exiling. The manager of Regie Company asked Aminossoltan to persuade the scholars and even wanted him to exile Mirza Ashtiani, the great Marja’ in Tehran. Shah wrote to Mirza Ashtiani: “stayin Tehran and use hookah or leave here.”
Mirza asked for a day to be prepared. The next day morning, Monday people went protesting in the streets and headed toward Mirza’s house. Shah sent somebody there and asked Mirza about his conditions to stop this story. Mirza Ashtiani replied: “we want the concession to be abolished and the foreigners lose access to our sources.”
However, the protests continued and a number of people where killed and injured. Mirza told people to go back to their works.
Aminossoltan brought Shah’s verdict about the abolition to Mirza Shirazi. He said the Fatwa is valid till Mirza Ashtiani’s letter about this abolition is sent to me. When he saw the announcement on the abolition, declared his fatwa is finished.
On Tuesday, people were announced that they are allowed to use hookah and tobacco. On 5 April 1891, Shah signed the abolition of the Tobacco concession officially.