Mehdi Bazargan: The Life of a Scholar Overshadowed by Politics

Alireza Hodaei Assistant, Society/Culture

Mehdi Bazargan is one of the most discussed political figures in Iran’s contemporary history, with a long, active political career.

Iran’s contemporary history has been a venue for politically motivated engineers and frequent appearances by individuals with technical education in the political realm. Mehdi Bazargan is one example, with long years of political activity and scholarly publications outside of his engineering background. Bazargan was the first Prime Minister after the 1979 Revolution, however, his initial appearance in Iranian politics was much earlier when he briefly served as the Deputy Minister of Culture in 1952 under the cabinet of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. Ever since, Bazargan had been an active politician, theorist, and dedicated author until his death in 1995. Yet, his scholarly activities, theories, and books are often overshadowed by his political career. An impartial assessment of Bazargan’s life requires one to inspect the lesser-known sides of his activities and, thus, depict a multifaceted image of him. Therefore, in the following pages, the scholarly works of Bazargan will be discussed in three categories: First his works on social issues, then, his religious books, and finally, Bazargan’s engineering-related pieces.

Bazargan as a Social Scientist

From 1928 to 1995, there are more than 300 listed books, articles, and booklets published by Bazargan. The multitude of works and seven decades of active authorship alone is an indication of his outstanding scholarly career. Bazargan’s works were devoted to multiple disciplines of social sciences. He wrote about a wide range of social, political, and economic issues and theorized on issues such as the backwardness of Muslim societies, the future of revolutions, leftist movements, and Islamic finance. Two less popular examples of his works from the 1960s and the 1970s that were recently published are particularly important to appreciate Bazargan’s worldview. The first is a short article on forms of governance that dates to the 1960s named “Governance from Below1”. In this piece, Bazargan appears as a nationalist that is critical of both corruption in the Pahlavi administration and foreign support for this dynasty. To combat despotic and corrupt governance, Bazargan suggests a grassroots mobilization, a movement from below, to form small, efficient, and more importantly, non-political “Democratic Units2” and exercise democracy with communal activities such as praying and social gatherings.

The second example is Mehdi Bazargan’s book based on his prison notes, originally written in the 1970s when he was jailed in Qasr Prison, titled “Cuba, India, Iran”. This work was initially three separate pieces, however, the Mehdi Bazargan Cultural Foundation recently published them in one book.3 Bazargan’s analysis of the Indian Independence Movement and the Cuban Revolution shows his intimate knowledge of these societies and the sympathy he had towards these movements. He praised Gandhi and Castro and considered India and Cuba’s struggles as “national liberation” movements against foreign intervention.

Bazargan as a Religious Scholar

Mehdi Bazargan is a rare example of a western-educated intellectual who neither turned hardcore pro-western activist nor became an advocate for communism. His political ideology was unique, local, and a result of his own thoughts. Moreover, contrary to many contemporary intellectuals who were stuck in East-West dichotomy and rejected Islam and its political practices, Bazargan authored dozens of books advocating for Islam as a progressive religion and theorized the synthesis of science and religion in his early scholarly works. Although Bazargan’s attitude towards Islam gradually shifted during the last years of his life, the majority of his scholarly works were devoted to religion and religious teachings. One of his salient works from the 1960s includes three volumes, more than 500 pages, named “Teaching of Quran4”. This was an extremely popular self-learning series, which thought the Quran using simple methods that did not necessarily require an instructor. For decades, it remained instrumental in the religious education of Iranians, as there was a scarcity of modern educational material available at the time. In addition to this series, Bazargan wrote a three-volume series on the “Return to Quran5” and a two-volume edition on the “Evolution of Quran6”, which were considered influential works both before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Bazargan as an Engineer

Adding to the dozens of books related to religious politics and practices, Mehdi Bazargan was a respected engineer who had authored several books in his field. For about seven years, he studied in France and graduated from École Polytechnique. After returning to Iran, Bazargan pursued an academic career and, in a few years, became the head of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tehran. Many of Bazargan’s engineering-related books and articles covered a wide range of scientific topics including precipitation processes, air motions, and solar heat gains. The Mehdi Bazargan Cultural Foundation published a collection of these books and articles in a volume of over 500 pages.

Conclusion

Mehdi Bazargan is one of the most discussed political figures in Iran’s contemporary history, with a long, active political career. However, his political career and controversies regarding his ideology overshadow his scholarly life in available literature. In addition to being a political activist, Bazargan authored over 300 articles and books on social science, he contributed to religious scholarship, and composed engineering-related scientific books and articles. While analyzing Mehdi Bazargan’s scholarly works is necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of his life, ideology, and political stance. Thanks to the Mehdi Bazargan Cultural Foundation, the majority of his works are documented, listed, and published electronically and are an excellent resource for researchers on the contemporary history of Iran.


1 Taarif-e Hukumat az Payin
2 Vahedhay-e Demokratik
3 Zendan-e Qasr
4 Amuzesh-e Quran
5 Bazgasht be Quran
6 Seyr-e Tahavvul-i Quran


Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of IRAM.

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