Sayyid Muhammad Bihbahani

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Sayyid Muhammad Bihbahani
سید محمد بهبهانی.jpg
Personal Information
Religious AffiliationTwelver Shi'a
Well-Known RelativesSayyid 'Abd Allah Bihbahani (father)
Place of BirthTehran
ResidenceTehran, Najaf
Studied inNajaf
Burial PlaceNajaf
Scholarly Information
ProfessorsSayyid Abu l-Hasan Jilwa, Akhund Khurasani
Socio-Political Activities
member of council for deposition of Muhammad Ali Shah, member of Constituent assembly at the time of Reza Shah, ...

Sayyid Muḥammad Bihbahānī (Persian: سید محمد بهبهانی) (b. 1874- d. 1963) son of Sayyid 'Abd Allah Bihbahani was a member of council for deposition of Muhammad Ali Shah at the time of Constitutional Movement in Iran and a member of second parliament, member of Constituent assembly at the time of Reza Shah and a mediator between religious authorities and people and the court of Mohammad Reza Shah.

In 1948, he and 14 religious authorities signed a declaration which prohibited women from appearing in public places without hijab. Also, one of his activities was to seriously confront Baha'is and their activities.

Sayyid Muhammad Bihbahani's relations with the government turned sour since 1958. He passed away in November 1963 due to cancer and his body was moved to Najaf.


Sayyid Muhammad Bihbahni was born in 1874. His father, Sayyid 'Abd Allah Bihbahani was among the famous leaders of Mashruta (the Constitutional Movement). Sayyid Muhammad owed much of his fame and influence to his father.

He learned primary religious educations with his father and it is said that he was among the students of Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Jilwa in rational sciences. After a while in Najaf, he participated in fiqh and usul class of teachers such as Akhund Khurasani. In November 1963, he passed away in Tehran and his body was moved to Najaf. The day of his demise was announced an official public mourning.

During Mashruta

The beginning of Bihbahani's political activities was since the time of Mashruta and with his father. After the period of Minor Dictatorship and the fall of Mohammad Ali Shah, he became a member of a council of constitutionalists which was established for reviving the constitution. In its first session, this council dispositioned Mohammad Ali Shah and appointed Ahmad Mirza in his place. Bihbahani also made great efforts for establishment of the parliament and in the second parliament, he was elected as the member from Tehran.

Gradually, influence and credit of Bihbahani increased, especially after the martyrdom of his father, so much that he had a role in almost all political events. One of his first measures was objecting to the exile of religious scholars from the holy cities by the government of Iraq and by the order of England in 1923.

At the Time of Reza Shah

In 1925, he was chosen as a member of Mu'assisan parliament (Constituent assembly) and had relations with the court until the end of Reza Shah's rule. However, he apparently did not participate in any important social activity before the end of Reza Shah's rule.

At the Time of Mohammad Reza Shah

During the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah, Bihbahani, in the position of a top religious authority of Tehran, played the role of a mediator between religious authorities and people and the court of Mohammad Reza Shah. With his socio-religious position on the one hand and his influence in the court of Shah on the other hand, he tried to solve people's political, social and religious problems.

Making Declaration about Hijab

In 1948, Bihbahani and fourteen other religious authorities signed a declaration which prohibited women from appearing in public places without hijab. After this announcement, the then Prime Minister immediately asked him to use his religious influence and prevents people from opposing women who do not observe hijab. During the time of Dr. Mosaddeq's Prime minister-ship, it seems that opposition of religious influential leaders such as Bihbahani with the bill of correcting election law of the government which requested giving women the right to vote was very effective in its failure.

In the Movement for Nationalization of the Oil Industry

Bihbahani was not active in the movement for nationalization of the oil industry and the serious struggle of national and religious forces for actualization of this issue; and thus, according to his own statements, he tried to distance from political affairs, while however it is said that whenever he deemed it necessary, he did not doubt to express his opinion. He never sided with the advocates of Mosaddeq and even sometimes criticized the government, even with he was not satisfied with some actions of political groups opposite to Mosaddeq and even actions which had religious color and said that, "for progress in social affairs, centrality is necessary, otherwise, scattered thoughts and adopting irrational policies based on emotions in social and political movements will result in corruption and failure."

Dissuading Shah from Travelling Abroad

On February 28th, 1953, following disagreements between Dr. Mosaddeq and the court, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi decided to travel abroad. According to reports, Bihbahani was most influential in dissuading Shah from travelling. Beside his different measures to prevent this travel including his phone conversation with the prime minister and asking him to dissuade Shah, Bihbahani went to the court in the last hour of Shah's travel and by insisting too much, especially after the serious request of demonstrators from Bihbahani, finally cancelled the travel. Some fighters for the national movement reprimanded Bihbahani for doing this action and most historians have a critical look towards it, so that his action was considered an alignment with the court and opposition with Dr. Mosaddeq.

Opposition with Mosaddeq's Referendum

In July 1953, following Mosaddeq's referendum about cancellation of seventeenth parliament which also led to opposition of his many other close friends and members who supported the national movement, Bihbahani and Ayatullah Sayyid Abu l-Qasim Kashani regarded Mosaddeq's action illegitimate and against religion. Although, they had some common opinions with him, but it did not mean a complete agreement with him and even Kashani criticized him.

Bihbahani's Role in August 19 Coup

Often, the name of Bihbahani is also mentioned in the events that led to the coup on August 19, but there are different opinions regarding his role. Some consider his role decisive and relate the mobilization of the groups of outlaws to him on August 18, who supported Shah after the failure of the coup on August 16 and then escaped the country. These groups attacked anti-American and anti-Shah demonstrations communists had run. Rebels of August 19 who took control of national radio and besieged the house of Dr. Mosaddeq and then plundered it together with coup forces were considered to be the forces of Bihbahani, Kashani and Baqa'i. Some other sources also said that in this period, mother of Shah went to the houses of Bihbahani and Kashani several times and asked them to help Shah. Some authors analyzed the position of Bihbahani in these years and his direction towards Mosaddeq through his fear from taking of power by communists. On the opposite, it has been said that he had a role in aggrandizing the danger of the communist party.

Bihbahani after the Coup

After the coup, in a telegram from Rome, Mohammad Reza Shah asked Bihbahani that the orders of the government of Zahedi (leader of the coup) should be obeyed. Bihbahani too sent a telegram to him and gave him a positive answer. Also, on August 25, Bihbahani met Shah in Sa'd Abad palace.

Fighting Baha'ism

Another issue, in which Bihbahani's role was serious, was fighting with Baha'ism. Following the increasing pressure of religious authorities and people about the growth of Baha'ism and their free activities, Shah was forced to issue the order to shut down Khatirat al-Quds, the gathering place of Baha'is. Bihbahani made great efforts about realization of this request of religious authorities and people and later on April 24th, 1955, he thanked Shah in his meeting with him.

Darkness of His Relation with Mohammad Reza Shah

Bihabahani's relation with the government turned sour since 1955. The most important disagreements that emerged between the court, especially Mohammad Reza Shah and Bihabhani were as follows:

Women and Election

In late December 1955, he sent out a letter which was published in Keyhan newspaper and attacked the issue of women's participation in election for senate.

Lack of Freedom of Speech

With the beginning of land reform programs, Bihbahani sent a strongly worded telegram to Shah on February 9, 1962 and mentioned the events of the university and killing of the students a result of delay in opening of the parliament and lack of freedom and accused Shah of dereliction. After this telegram which accompanied an increase of the activities of Bihbahani's son, Sayyid Ja'far who had been a member of parliament for some periods was arrested.

Provincial Councils Law

The relation between Bihbahani and the government became darker following the approval of the law for provincial councils on October 8, 1962, in which the requirement of taking oath by the Qur'an and being Muslim were omitted from the requirements of candidates and voters and also the right to vote was given to women.

Following the approval of this law, religious scholars of Qom and Najaf including Ayatullah Hakim and Ayatullah Khu'i sent telegrams to Bihbahani and asked him to take an action for cancelling this law. Thus, he sent a telegram to Shah and insisted on this request. To object to this law, Bihabahani summoned people to gather in Sayyid 'Aziz Allah mosque in Bazar of Tehran. In this gathering, after the speech of the famous speaker of Tehran, Muhammad Taqi Falsafi, Bihbahani went on the puplpit despite his old age and asked the prime minister to correct this law.

Since the government ignored these objections, Bihbahani and three other religious authorities decided to sit in Sayyid 'Aziz Allah mosque and asked people to come to the mosque. When the ignorance of the government raised, Bihbahani who was about 90 years old, made a will that if he passed away there, they leave his body unburied in the mosque until this law would be cancelled. Finally, the prime minister sent a telegram to the clergies in Qom and Tehran and informed them of the cancellation of the law, following which, future demonstrations of people were also cancelled.

White Revolution

In the referendum for the Six Articles of the White Revolution, Ayatullah Khu'i sent a telegram to Bihbahani and objected to the White Revolution and thus, Bihbahani also wrote a letter to the prime minister Alam and clearly prohibited the government from dividing religiously endowed lands and interfering in such affairs.

Banning the Referendum

When Imam Khomeini banned the referendum of Shah for the White Revolution, Ayatullah Bihbahani and Ayatullah Sayyid Ahmad Khwansari also issued fatwa for the banning of this referendum. On January 22, 1963, Muhammad Taqi Falsafi made a speech against the referendum in the house of Bihbahani. This gathering finally led to fight with police who afterwards kept him under surveillance and was prevented to go out of his house. Thus, this way he opposed the court directly.

Tragedy of Feydiyya School

When Ayatullah Khomeini and other religious authorities announced Nowruz of 1342 (Persian calendar, March 1963) a public mourning, Bihbahani also issued an announcement and seriously criticized the crime of Shah's regime in the tragedy of Feydiyya school.

Event of June 5, 1963

After the uprising of June 5, 1963, Bihbahani issued a statement in which he heavily condemned "crime of the ruling class". In that statement, he used explicit phrases and spoke of "serious resistance of the holy Ja'fari clerics against government's awkward actions and crimes" and it was since then that he was hated by the regime more than before and even his son was prevented from candidacy of the parliament.