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Jumadi al-Awal 1st marks anniversary of Mirza Shirazi’s historic fatwa to ban tobacco during Qajar era

The first of Jumadi al-Awal marks the anniversary of the historic tobacco-banning fatwa issued by late Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hassan al-Hosseini al-Shirazi, known as Mirza Shirazi, one of the taqlid authorities who lived in Samarra at the time.

The issuance of the famous fatwa and the retreat of the government represent a significant intervention of the Shia authorities in the history of Iran.

The First day of Jumadi al-Awal marks the anniversary of the fatwa banning tobacco issued by Mirza Shirazi. The tobacco boycott movement represents a turning point in the anti-colonial struggles of the Iranian people, especially because the people stood up against colonialism and tyranny under the leadership of an independent Shia Marja and achieved victory when the Qajar king officially retreated.

When Naser al-Din Shah ran out of money during his third trip to Europe due to excessive spending and revelry, he granted a concession of monopoly for cultivation, distribution and sale of tobacco to England in exchange for 25,000 lire.

In response to the colonial privilege granted to the English company, protests broke out in different cities under the leadership of some religious authorities, including “Syed Ali Akbar Fal Asiri” in Shiraz, “Haj Mirza Javad Aghamjothad” in Tabriz, “Haj Sheikh Mohammad Taghi Agha Najafi” (who issued the tobacco ban order for the first time) in Isfahan, and Mirzai Ashtiani in Tehran. The government cracked down on the movement and some scholars were exiled.

At this point, Mirza sent numerous telegrams to the court, pointing out the harm and corruption arising from such concession which allowed foreigners to extend their influence in Iran. He stressed that granting such concessions was in clear opposition to the Qur’an, divine laws, and Iran’s independence. Finally, Mirza sent a telegram to the Shah and called on him to return those he had exiled, and his opposition to the concession contract.

When he was not satisfied by the response and explanation of the regime, he expressed his ultimatum, “If the government is unable to deal with foreign forces, the nation is not incapable of answering” adding that: “If the government can’t handle the situation, I will destroy it by God’s will.”

Therefore, Mirza Shirazi issued his historical fatwa: “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent. Today the use of both varieties of tobacco, in whatever fashion is reckoned war against the Imam of the Age – may God hasten his advent.”

The fatwa sparked a huge movement to the extent that even in the private quarters of Naser al-Din Shah, hookahs were broken. This movement gained momentum and later an announcement was made in the streets and markets threatening that: “According to the fatwa of Mirzai Shirazi, if the tobacco concession is not canceled within 48 hours, the next day will be the day of Jihad, people, get ready.”

Naser al-Din Shah initially intended to resist, but in the face of the massive popular movement that had started, he was forced to first cancel the domestic concession and then the entire monopoly.

The tobacco ban movement and the historic fatwa of Mirza Shirazi represent one of the most important historical examples which highlight the fact that independent Shia authorities have always defended the rights of the people and stood by the people against authoritarian and colonial governments.

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