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Ali Dashti 

23 Years: A Study of Muhammad’s Prophetic Career – Book (English)
23 Years (23 Sal) – Book (Persian)
The 55: Analysis of the 55 years of Pahlavi Dynasty’s Reign in Iran – Book (Persian)
Bed of Steel – Book (Persian)

Professor Ali Dashti (1896 – 1982)

We welcome the great literary historian and Islamic studies Professor Ali Dashti in to the IPC Hall of fame. Professor Ali Dashti is now officially nominated as an honorary IPC author. May his great spirit rest in peace. Ali Dashti is a great enlightenment towards unveiling the true face of Mohammad, Quran and Islam.

Ali Dashti was born in 1896 in a village in Dashtestan, a district adjoining the port of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, Ali Dashti was the son of Shaykh Abdol-Hussein Dashtestani. At a young age he was taken by his father to Karbala in Iraq, which then belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Karbala, where the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein was martyred in 680 AD, and Najaf (about 70 km. or 43 m. to the south), where the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law Ali was martyred in 661 AD, are visited by Shiite Muslim pilgrims and have colleges (madrasas) where Shiite clergy (Olama) are trained and theological studies are pursued. Despite the unsettled conditions in the First World War, Ali Dashti received a full training in these madrasas and acquired a thorough knowledge of Islamic theology and history, logic, rhetoric, Arabic and Persian grammar, and classical literature.

After his return from Iraq to Iran in 1918, however, he decided against a clerical career. Having strong patriotic feelings and an awareness of world developments, he preferred to devote his fluent pen to journalism. Eventually he succeeded in establishing his own newspaper at Tehran, Shafaq-e Sorkh (Red Dawn), which lasted from March 1, 1922 unti1 March 18, 1935. He was its editor until March 1, 1931, when Ma'el Tuyserkani took over. In 1919 Ali Dashti was imprisoned for a time after he had written articles criticizing the proposed Anglo-Iranian treaty of that year (which was later dropped), and in 1921 and subsequently he spent some more short spells in prison. He described his experiences and thoughts in articles which were collected in a book, “Ayam-e Mahbas” (Prison Days). With its radical and modernizing tone, shrewd observations, pleasant humor, and fluent style, this book won immediate popularity and was several times reprinted in amplified editions. Shafaq-e Sorkh (Red Dawn) became noted for the high quality of its articles on social and literary subjects written by Ali Dashti and his then young collaborators, among whom were distinguished men such as the poet and literary historian Rashid Yasemi and the scholarly researchers Sa'id Nafisi, Abbas Eqbal, and Mohammad Mohit Tabataba'i.

During those years, Ali Dashti taught himself French and began to read widely in modern French literature and in English and Russian literature in French translations. He also read material in French on current affairs, music and painting (in which he was interested), and Islamic subjects. He was one of the few Iranians who took an interest in modern Arabic, particularly Egyptian, literature. At a time when most writers of Persian prose were still addicted to elaborate metaphors and complex sentences, he developed a fluent but elegant style which was widely admired and copied, the only adverse criticism being that he used too many borrowed French words. Not only his original writings gained popularity, but also his translations of Edmond Demolins' A quoi tient La superiorite des Anglo-Saxons and of an Arabic version of Samuel Smiles' Self-Help.

In 1927 Ali Dashti was invited to visit Russia for the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, and he took the opportunity to extend his journey and see France and other Western European countries. He was elected to the Majlis (Parliament) as deputy for Bushehr in 1928 and again in the next two parliaments, and won a reputation for forceful speaking. After the expiry of the Ninth Majlis (Parliament) in 1935, however, he was again detained and kept under house arrest for fourteen months. In 1939 he was re-elected to the Majlis as deputy for Damavand (near Tehran), and after the Anglo-Russian occupation of Iran he won the same seat in the elections of 1941 and 1943. He was the leading figure in the Edalat (Justice) party, a group favouring moderate and practicable social reforms. As a patriot he expressed alarm at the risks taken in 1946 by the then prime minister, Qavam ol Saltaneh, in admitting members of the Soviet-backed Tudeh party into the cabinet and in negotiating on the Soviet demand for an oil concession. His outspokenness landed him in prison in April 1946. After his release six months later, he went to France and stayed there until the end of 1948, when he was appointed ambassador to Egypt and the Lebanon. He was briefly minister of foreign affairs in the cabinet of Hussein Ala, which held office for a fortnight before Mohammad Mosadeq's rise to the premiership on  April 2, 1951.

In 1954 he was appointed a senator (half of the members of the Senate being elected and half appointed by the Shah). He remained in the Senate until the Islamic revolution of February 11, 1979 and won further esteem for his contributions to its debates, which often carried more weight than those of the Majlis (Parliament).

In the literary world, Ali Dashti was best known during the early post-war years as an essayist and novelist. In “Sayeh” (1946), a collection of reprinted articles and sketches, his tone remains modernizing, but is less radical than in his previous writings.

During and after Reza Shah's reign, the social problem which was most discussed in Iran, or at least in upper and middle class circles, was the status of women. Iranian women had been compulsorily unveiled on January 7, 1936, but after the war women of the lower classes resumed the veil and women of the upper and middle classes came under strong pressure to do likewise. Ali Dashti sympathized with the desire of educated Iranian women for freedom to use their brains and express their personalities; but he does not present a very favourable picture of them in his collections of novelettes “Fetneh” (1943 and 1949), “Jadu” (1951), and “Hendu” (1955). His heroines engage in flirtations and intrigues with no apparent motive except cold calculation. Nevertheless these stories are very readable, and they provide a vivid, and no doubt partly accurate, record of the social life of the upper classes and the psychological problems of the educated women in Tehran at the time. Ali Dashti's literary reputation, however, rests on his work as a scholar and critic of the Persian classics. The Iranians take legitimate pride in their heritage but have shown reluctance to discuss the difficulties which the classics present to their own younger generation, let alone to foreigners.

One difficulty is the archaic language of the classics, another is their medieval atmosphere, and another is their bulk. Sa'eb, the leading poet of the Safavid period, wrote 300,000 verses, most of which were probably not intended to be more than ephemeral {lasting a very short time}. In any case, nobody can read all the classics. Modern Iranian scholars have generally taken a classical author's greatness for granted and have concentrated their research on matters such as the influence of the author's training and career, and his forerunners and patrons, on the form and content of his work, and his own influence on successors. Ali Dashti, while not neglecting such points, tried to pick out and explain the elements in the works of certain classical poets which have continuing artistic and moral value for the modern reader. He also makes candid criticisms, mentioning for instance that Sa'di gives some very immoral pieces of advice in addition to ever popular maxims of common sense, good manners, and good humor. Although there is necessarily a measure of subjectivity in Ali Dashti's appraisals, his new approach met a widely felt need and helped to revive popular interest in the classics. His books in this field, which were several times reprinted, are as follows:

Ali Dashti’s Books on Analysis of Persian Poetry

Naqshi az Hafez (1936), on the poet Hafez (1319-1390).

Seyri dar Divan-e Shams, on the lyric verse of the poet Moulavi Jalal eDin Rumi (1207-1273).

Dar qalamrou-e Sa'di, on the poet and prose-writer Sa'di (1208-1292).

Sha'eri dir ashna (1961), on Khaqani (1121-1199), a particularly difficult but interesting poet.

Dami ba Khayyam (1965), on the quatrain-writer and mathematician Omar Khayyam (1048-1131); translated by Laurence P.

Elwell Sutton, In Search of Omar Khayyam, London 1971.

Negahi be-Sa'eb (1974), on the poet Sa'eb (1601-1677).

Kakh-e ebda'-e andisheha-ye gunagun-e Hafez, on various ideas expressed by Hafez.

In his later years Ali Dashti returned to the study of Islam, for which he was well qualified by his madrasa training and his wide reading of modern Egyptian and European works. His approach was the same as in his literary studies, namely to emphasize elements of lasting value and to discuss problems frankly. His writings in this field are as follows:

Ali Dashti’s Books on Islam

Parde-ye pendar (1974 and twice reprinted), on Sufism (Islamic mysticism).

Jabr ya Ekhtiyar (anonymous and undated, contents first published in the periodical Vahid in 1971), dialogues with a Sufi about predestination and free will.

Takht-e Pulad (anonymous and undated, contents first published in the periodical Khaterat in 1971-72), dialogues in the historic Takht-e Pulad cemetery of Esfahan with a learned Alem who sticks to the letter of the Quran and the Hadith.

Oqala bar khelaf-e Aql (1975 and twice reprinted, revised versions of articles first published in the periodicals Yaqma in 1972 and 1973, Vahid in 1973, and Rahnama-ye Ketab in 1973, with two additional articles), on logical contradictions in arguments used by theologians, particularly Mohammad Qazzali (1058-1111).

Dar diyar-e Sufiyan (1975), on Sufism, a continuation of Parde-ye pendar.

Bist O Seh Sal [23 Sal] (anonymous and without indication of place and date of publication, but evidently not later than 1974 and according to Ali Dashti's statement printed at Beirut), a study of the prophetic career of Mohammad.

The government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi maintained a censorship which offended many Iranian intellectuals, though it seemed to foreigners to be less oppressive than the contemporary censorships in most other Middle Eastern countries.

The Iranian censorship was tightened after the start of terrorist attacks in 1971 and directed mainly against Marxist and Islamic revolutionary writings; but it was also used to prevent the printing of any sort of potentially trouble-causing matter. Publication of criticism of orthodox or popular religion was not allowed in Iran between 1971 and 1977. Ali Dashti was therefore obliged to have Bist O Seh Sal (Twenty Three Years), his major work in this field, printed abroad (at Beirut) and to issue it anonymously.

Only oral and scanty information about Ali Dashti's experiences after the Islamic revolution is available. He was arrested, and during an interrogation he received a beating and fell and broke his thigh. To what extent he recovered is not clear. After release he was not allowed to return to his home, a pleasant, small house with a garden at Zargandeh, a northern suburb of Tehran. It is unlikely that he saw his books and papers again. A notice in the Iranian periodical Ayandeh reported his death in the month of Dey of the Iranian year 1360, i.e. between December 22, 1981 and January 20, 1982.

 The religion of Islam, founded by Mohammad in his prophetic career which began in 610 AD and ended with his death in 632 AD, has helped to shape the cultures and lifestyles of many nations.

In the last hundred years, numerous scholarly books have been written about Mohammad, the Quran, and Islamic theology, laws, sects, and mystic movements. Foreign scholars have accomplished essential tasks of gathering and analysing data. Indigenous scholars have for the most part written expositions and apologia, and with exceptions such as the Egyptian Tom Hussein, who lived from 1889 to 1973 and was blind, have not paid much attention to difficulties.

The book Bist O Seh Sal (Twenty Three Years) by the Iranian scholar Ali Dashti is valuable because it discusses both values and problems which Islam presents to modern Muslims.

May Ali Dashti’s great restless spirit rest in peace and his work to be continued.

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