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Drawn from the first-hand accounts of eyewitnesses, Roy Mottahedeh's account of Islam and politics in revolutionary Iran is widely regarded as one the best records of that turbulent time ever written.


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Drawn from the first-hand accounts of eyewitnesses, Roy Mottahedeh's account of Islam and politics in revolutionary Iran is widely regarded as one the best records of that turbulent time ever written.

30 review for The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katia N

    This book was first published in 1985. It is a brilliant tour de force of the intellectual and religious ideas prevailing on the territory of Iran or influenced by its culture. Inevitably it is focused on Shia Islam. But there is a lot more including secular tradition, sufism, manichaeism and zoroastrism, It is great in its scope and not very difficult to read. Roy Mottahedeh explains tricky concepts with ease but without loosing the level of details. I feel sad that I’ve finished this book and This book was first published in 1985. It is a brilliant tour de force of the intellectual and religious ideas prevailing on the territory of Iran or influenced by its culture. Inevitably it is focused on Shia Islam. But there is a lot more including secular tradition, sufism, manichaeism and zoroastrism, It is great in its scope and not very difficult to read. Roy Mottahedeh explains tricky concepts with ease but without loosing the level of details. I feel sad that I’ve finished this book and it is hardly possible to produce an update of this book for the last 40 years due to the political developments. On the superficial level, the book goal is to explain what has lead to the Islamic Revolution in 1979. And “how a revolution so popular in origin should be so conservative in outcome”. However, the author warns in the introduction that there is no definitive answer on this question. As well as there is no answer on the question whether the revolution was the change for the better or worse. He gives the example of the French revolution which happened 200 years ago and the historians still disagree on its consequences. For me though the sheer scope of the intellectual thought, the strangeness of it as well as some familiarity was amazing. I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed the experience of learning as well. The book does not have a historically chronological structure. Instead it follows the intellectual life of a boy of a traditional mullah family from his childhood in the 40s of the 20th century through his education and up to the revolution of 1979. The boy, Ali Hashemi is sayyed, the ancestor of a Prophet. We follow his intellectual development from the primary state school to Madreseh in Qom where he lives. Later he becomes the instructor there, leaves for Iraq to study with Khomeini, then comes back and goes to the University of Tehran to study secular subjects such as philosophy. It is a true story. And it forms approximately a third of the total book. Another two thirds are more analytical follow ups to each chapter focused on a certain aspect of the Iranian intellectual and political history such as education, revolution of 1906, the history of Shia Islam, Sufis and the poetry. Typically, the author would pick up a few prominent individuals, politician and scholars and illustrate more general points through their thinking. Those individuals include Avicenna, Khayam, Shahravardi, Karsavi, Mosaddeq and many others. Initially i've had reservations about the structure. And in fact I did not enjoy the first chapter that much. But later I was convinced that the structure worked brilliantly. The weakness of the book is predictable. His depiction of the American policy in Iran as “naive” and idealistic sounds naive at least. He mentions Roosevelt adviser saying: “Iran is or can be made something in a nature of a clinic - an experiment station-for the presidents postwar policies his aims to develop and stabilise backward areas” which is dubious by itself. But then on the next page he talks about the US sponsored coup to get rid of the elected prime minister in the 50s when CIAs paid out the mob to organise antigovernment protest effectively managing the coup. They even were amazed how cheap it came to be. I find it really far from “naive and idealistic”. The Brits who effectively ruled there together with the Russians for 2 centuries are hardly mentioned. The Russians though got there share, but still treated gently enough. But I think i can forgive him for that as it does not affect the majority of the stuff in the book and is not the main subject of his narrative. As always with my non-fiction reviews, I would just mention a few points which I found fascinating. The selection is very subjective and far from a comprehensive. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested to broaden their point of view and find the perspective of the world that is different from the Western one. 1. Iran did not have any formal system of education, even on the primary level until the 30s of the 20s century which is very late. The first and only high level secular education establishment was a Polytechnic founded in the late 19th century but for a very specific purpose. But Madresehs first appeared in the 11th century. They were the centres of the formal Islamic learning not very different from the Medieval universities. They existed throughout the centuries and their curriculum was quite vigorous. They taught something which is known as trivium in the West: grammar, rhetoric and logic. Of course those were not the only subjects. They needed to be fluent in Arabic to learn Koran and later the Islamic law among other things.They were taught not only through reading the texts but through disputations. The scholars needed to work in pairs and to dispute the difficult bits. So it was not as dogmatic as we would imagine. The system was still in place when Ali was studying in the early 50s. My understanding is that those establishments were the only place for a brighter boy to be educated. 2. Sufism appeared to play a very significant role in spreading Islam between the masses. It is a mystical movement which believes in a possibility of obtaining a knowledge through “illumination” as opposed to reason. The mainstream clerics did not like Sufis as the reason played a very significant role in the interpretation of Islam and made it a prerogative of a learned man i.e. clergy. Also they competed for the financial resources. However, the Sufism in one form or another never disappeared. The practice of “efran” - learning how to achieve illumination through repetition and other form of ecstatic experience is still popular. Ali, the main character of the book has had a spiritual teacher of efran outside the madreseh system and he has achieved the state when he could see everything around him as just a form of light. It is quite fascinating how this mystical experience is described. The Sufis also had a huge influence on Iranian poetry. Many of the poets were the Sufis themselves. 3. “Seeing the light” has lead me to another little story. When i was reading Dante’s “Divine comedy” earlier this year, I’ve read somewhere that his Paradiso closely resembles in structure and appearance the Paradise described in many narratives of the Ascent by Mohammed. He ascends to the throne of God under the guidance of Gabriel “a visionary experience recorded in all his biographies culminate in light.” It has been even mentioned in Wiki. Here, it is mentioned as well. In both Dante’s book and the Ascent, God is the focus of the most vivid lights surrounded by 9 concentric circles “formed by closed files of angels emitting light and all circles revolve about the Divine Focus.” So it is very likely Dante “was inspired” by the one of these accounts. It is almost certain, but obviously it is viciously argued against by many western scholars. 4. Mani, the founder of the religion named after him in the 3rd century seems to be very fascinating and influential figure. It is strange we do not hear about him that much nowadays. I’ve heard of him and his influence on St Augustine and respectively the Medieval Christianity when I was reading [Iran]. Here, he becomes even more interesting. Mani and his follows believed universal salvation of the soul through knowledge out of evil material world. So everything material, including body is really bad. But as a consequence, everything not material, including the written word is good. So it looks like we owe to him a huge boost in establishing and spreading the literature. Before him the scriptures were not defined. The revelations were recorded by someone else, not by the prophets themselves. But he by himself received revelations and wrote scripture. Therefore, he has created the idea of canon. And all other religions had to follow. I wonder whether we owe him the idea of the canon in the Western literature as well. He made the religion more democratic through translations as well. Other established religions were very reluctant to translate their sacred texts from their original languages. Not Mani. He by himself has translated his revelations into at least three languages and encouraged other translations. He also was quite happy to “borrow” from other religions. And he encouraged composing poetry and singing hymns in native languages. While the other religions considered the poetry as the language of Satan. All in all he seemed to be the first very influential, not very scrupulous literati. He certainly influenced the genesis of the Persian poetry. 5. In general, the dualism of Zoroastrian religion has influenced the appearance of the evil and the Satan in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In Islam in particular, it seems the devil was associated with the creative impulses as well. And his figure is quite complex, far from the simple personification of the evil. Sufi believed that Satan was so devoted to God that he just could not accept a bow from anyone else. That is why he was ready to be expelled rather than to bow to a human. So he comes out almost like martyr figure. And of course, there is influence from the dualistic earlier religions. Mottahedeh’s argument then follows that while the theology is so ambiguous, it is not surprising that this ambiguity has become a part of the Iranian identity, and more narrowly the main theme of their traditional poetry. He says: “Persian poetry came to be the emotional home in which the ambiguity that was at the heart of Iranian culture lived most freely and openly. What Persian poetry expressed was not an enigma to be solved but an enigma that was unsolvable.” And in reality, the poets in Iran could get away with something which would be unimaginable in a very strict islamic tradition. The poetry plays a very significant role in the life or Iranian people. And this ambiguity, reconciling the opposites between an extreme piety and the hedonistic cynicism might at least partly explain the contradictions of their history. 6. And the last point about the books burning. I’ve recently read a novel by an Iranian immigrant. There, she described an imaginary mass books burning by the Islamists after the revolution. I do not know whether such public actions really took place. I can believe they did, but I have not investigated this question. But I came across “a festival of book burning” by rather unexpected crowd. I was reading here about Kasravi, a former graduate from a madreseh but later a prominent secularist in 20-40s of the 20th century. He believed that traditional poetry is really harmful. Here Mottahedeh says “In pamphlets such as “Hasan is Burning his book of Hafez” he attacked the cult of Persian poetry, since he felt that Iranians used poetic quotations to avoid serious thinking. Anyway, Persian poetry was imbued with the qualities he detested - flattery of patrons, fatalism and mysticism antithetical to science - so he instituted a “book burning festival” for his followers at the winter solstice.” So it seems even if the novel I’ve read is based on some fact (and i do not know whether it is in fact the case), the idea has been initially propagated on the other end of the political spectrum. 


  2. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    This is a breathtaking intellectual history of Iran, starting from its pre-Islamic history all the way up the present day, and narrated alongside the story of one man in particular: a mullah trained in modern Iran's Shia seminaries. The scope of the book is really incredible and it would difficult to do it all justice in any summation, but Mottahedeh somehow manages to chart the origins of modern day Iranian thought deep in its ancient history. The descriptions of life in 20th century Qom and Te This is a breathtaking intellectual history of Iran, starting from its pre-Islamic history all the way up the present day, and narrated alongside the story of one man in particular: a mullah trained in modern Iran's Shia seminaries. The scope of the book is really incredible and it would difficult to do it all justice in any summation, but Mottahedeh somehow manages to chart the origins of modern day Iranian thought deep in its ancient history. The descriptions of life in 20th century Qom and Tehran are also beautifully done, and you really come to identify with the pseudonymous mullah as he tells the story of his education and coming of age. Along with the stories of his rigorously logical seminary training, I was particularly moved by the descriptions of his Sufi experiences and the importance of "erfan" in the lives of some of Iran's traditional religious teachers. The author somehow manages to weave the lives of Ferdowsi, Zoroaster, Ayatollah Taleqani, Jalal al-E Ahmed and many others into one durable narrative that continues alongside the life of the mullah. The writing is really captivating and elegant, which makes the potentially dense subject matter a pleasure to deal with. The book is bracketed by the events of the Iranian Revolution and was published around the time that the revolution occurred. Although it is not about those events per se, it provides a beautifully narrated origin story of how that strange moment came to pass. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Iran or modern Iranian politics. Hopefully one day the country will open up enough that it will be easier for others to experience it for themselves, but without losing all that makes it so unique.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Yorgos

    Mottahedeh uses extensively the personal lives and accounts of real Iranians who lived during the critical era that eventually led to 1979. The book manages to show how Iranian history and thought-life of Iranians developed post WWII. Its great value is the presentation of the emotional life and struggles of an Iranian mullah, who lived the events of post WWII, leading to 1979. I would love to see a book, with the same philosophy of presenting issues, that would cover the 1980s and 1990s.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Trevithick

    The scope of this book is breathtaking and I am in awe of its treatment of its material. This book is - contrary to the cover explanation - hardly about the revolution explicitly, and anyone looking for a 'blow-by-blow' account of those dates should look to dozens of other excellent books on those times. Instead, it is a sweeping and beautiful examination of the development of Persian / Iranian and Shia identity from its earliest days through 1980, covering everything from Islamic jurisprudence The scope of this book is breathtaking and I am in awe of its treatment of its material. This book is - contrary to the cover explanation - hardly about the revolution explicitly, and anyone looking for a 'blow-by-blow' account of those dates should look to dozens of other excellent books on those times. Instead, it is a sweeping and beautiful examination of the development of Persian / Iranian and Shia identity from its earliest days through 1980, covering everything from Islamic jurisprudence (in a detail I've never seen) to poetry to nationalism and everything in between, with attention paid the the changes in thinking that allowed the revolution to occur. The slow and methodical pace is at first noticeable but quickly becomes enjoyable as you become immersed into an epic tale. Critics are quite right about it at times meandering, but all of it is highly relevant and important.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    If only all countries had a historian of this calibre. This is a sharp and immersive intellectual history of Iran. Mottahedeh starts each chapter with a sort of historical fiction slice of life, following a stock cleric from the 1930s through to the Revolution. After this relatively brief tale, he segues into thematical treatment of Iranian history, culture and theology. Chapters cover secular and Islamic education systems, jurisprudence, Sufism and theology with Shi'ism, passion plays & poetry If only all countries had a historian of this calibre. This is a sharp and immersive intellectual history of Iran. Mottahedeh starts each chapter with a sort of historical fiction slice of life, following a stock cleric from the 1930s through to the Revolution. After this relatively brief tale, he segues into thematical treatment of Iranian history, culture and theology. Chapters cover secular and Islamic education systems, jurisprudence, Sufism and theology with Shi'ism, passion plays & poetry and much more. The result is a vivid and holistic explanation of Iranian culture, and a sense of how this combines into the heady mix of anti-imperialism and passionate religiosity than underpins the revolution. It is only in the epilogue that Mottahedeh's fury comes through at how Khomeini and his ilk reduced this society of glorious ambiguity built on colour and poetry, sharpened by formal Aristotelian proposition debate techique to a rigidity of black and white and simplicity, and his belief that Iranian culture would inevitably break it down. I particularly appreciated the explanation of madrasseh history and culture, tracing it's emergence in similar and yet different terms to mediaeval European University cultures. tThe rigor of intellectual training, establishing norms for reason and debate made a lot of other things suddenly make sense - it is a culture based much more on ideas developed through interaction, like Alexandria and it's debate culture,, than developing individualism and scoring in the West. The book is magnificent achievement, an explanation and celebration all at the same time. I have a huge reading list to follow up now, and I just wish more of it was available in English.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tariq Mahmood

    The great Madrassa of Qom signifies the best in contemporary Islamic education has to offer for Shi’a Islam. It produced the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini who was able to produce an Islamic revolution only in Iran. The madrassa education is deeply influenced by the Persian cultural tradition which precedes Islam by a few thousand years at least. That is why the Islamic revolution of Iran has not been able to export its vision anywhere apart from Iran. The proud Islamic Shia scholars are unique within The great Madrassa of Qom signifies the best in contemporary Islamic education has to offer for Shi’a Islam. It produced the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini who was able to produce an Islamic revolution only in Iran. The madrassa education is deeply influenced by the Persian cultural tradition which precedes Islam by a few thousand years at least. That is why the Islamic revolution of Iran has not been able to export its vision anywhere apart from Iran. The proud Islamic Shia scholars are unique within Islam, no Sunni school is able to match their stature and achievements. All of the Sunni revolutionary movements like Al Qaida and the Islamic state are led by non-religious leaders, and I think that is why they remain on the fringe. The Islamic revolution would probably never have occurred if not for the brilliance of the Islamic scholarship of Qom. Any successful religion has to have the innate quality of regenerating itself, keeping itself relevant with the challenges of time. Islam has achieved this goal by incorporating philosophy so that most major ills of life can be explained in the light of Koran. The author has quite brilliantly managed to explain this phenomenon using Iranian characters set in a story juxtaposed with the politial history of Iran.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Naumann Shaheen

    Mottahedeh tells the story of Iran through the eyes of a seminary student called Ali Hashemi. His life from young age, through to studies at Qom and Tehran, is the canvas on which the story of Iran has been painted. The book has been for me an exposition of many things, the most salient points are discussed below. It always intrigued me that most nations to the East and West of Iran for example Egypt and India were dominated (politically and ideologically) by Sunni Islam. Mottahedeh outlines the Mottahedeh tells the story of Iran through the eyes of a seminary student called Ali Hashemi. His life from young age, through to studies at Qom and Tehran, is the canvas on which the story of Iran has been painted. The book has been for me an exposition of many things, the most salient points are discussed below. It always intrigued me that most nations to the East and West of Iran for example Egypt and India were dominated (politically and ideologically) by Sunni Islam. Mottahedeh outlines the inextricable link between Iran and Shiah Islam and despite many of it’s (internal) critics, why it has reigned supreme. Mottahedeh masterfully outlines how the sentiments of liberals such Kasravi, intellectuals such as Al-e Ahmad and Mullahs such as Ayatollah Khomeini converged to topple first Reza Shah and then his son Mohammed Reza. These three seemingly differing groups fought the same war, but for different reasons. The political face of the initial uprising (pre-revolution), was Mossadegh who has left an indelible mark on Iranian history. The development of Sufism (or Erfan) by characters such as Sohrvardi (and arguably Avicenna) - from which the Sohrvardiyya arose - and it’s propagation via Mullah Sadra is also discussed. Mottahedeh explains why it was largely opposed by the Clergy, this goes some way to explain why Ali was taught Erfan by a private tutor. Ayatollah Khomeini also studied and (privately) taught it. Underpinning all of this, are the poets such as Hafez and Khayyam whose works are woven into the text, to illustrate the positions and grievances of Iranian society. Some of which, as Mottahedeh points out, are not strictly allegorical. This explains why for example, many are undecided whether Khayyam was a theist. There is some discussion of pre-Islamic history, particularly how the Shah utilised it. References are made to Alexander the Great, Zoroaster and Cyrus but not enough to satiate my interest in the topic. Recommended as a go-to for those interested in Shiah Islam, Iran and the Middle East in general. The book was written in 1985, less than a decade after the Revolution, I very much hope and wish Mottahedeh writes an update to this.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ömer Faruk Koç

    This is probably the best book I have ever read

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book is written in an unusual way for a history book. The backbone is a narrative of the life story of a mullah from a wealthy Sayyid mullah family from the holy city of Qom, but most of it is an intellectual history of Iran, told through the lens of the life and work of various influential men in Iranian cultural history. Each chapter begins with a piece of the biographee's story, but devotes many more pages to the backstory of intellectual history. This backstory is not given in chronolog This book is written in an unusual way for a history book. The backbone is a narrative of the life story of a mullah from a wealthy Sayyid mullah family from the holy city of Qom, but most of it is an intellectual history of Iran, told through the lens of the life and work of various influential men in Iranian cultural history. Each chapter begins with a piece of the biographee's story, but devotes many more pages to the backstory of intellectual history. This backstory is not given in chronological order, but includes whatever the author thinks is most relevant to that part of the main character's life. The chapters have no titles, and there is no table of contents. Despite what some reviewers quoted on my copy say about the author making the subject accessible to the ordinary reader, I feel it is challenging to navigate for someone without much background in the subject (I have a little background in Iranian history, without which I would have been quite lost). Parts of it are interesting, even beautiful, but some parts I found rather tedious. It has a bit too much of the "great man" view of history for my way of thinking. It gave less attention than I would to imperialist intervention and the economic reasons for it (as in oil), or to poverty and the conspicuous consumption of the Shah's regime, as causes of the revolution. It is the nature of intellectual history to be a rather elite subject, which doesn't mean it isn't worth studying. It will be on my shelf to return to if I am looking further into the work of any of the writers discussed in it. It does give a lot of detail about the educational system in Iran and its evolution, and about the relation of the the clerical class to the legal system and to the government. It is a history of that class of Iranians (the Shiite clerics), as well as of the influential individual writers.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Maciek

    Due to health problems with sinuses I spend nights reading and waiting until I can breath through my nose again, and that's how I managed to finish "The Mantle of the Prophet" in the record time of... err... three months. It's not an easy book. Don't get me wrong. It's good. But difficult. I think I'd prefer if it was a proper history book, but the author decided to wrap the essays about history of Persian literature, philosophy, and religion, in a narrative about a young mullah from Qom who goes Due to health problems with sinuses I spend nights reading and waiting until I can breath through my nose again, and that's how I managed to finish "The Mantle of the Prophet" in the record time of... err... three months. It's not an easy book. Don't get me wrong. It's good. But difficult. I think I'd prefer if it was a proper history book, but the author decided to wrap the essays about history of Persian literature, philosophy, and religion, in a narrative about a young mullah from Qom who goes to Tehran, then back to Qom, then back to Tehran, and so on. His encounters with other people are treated as opportunities to talk about various other topics. Personally I think we could do away without him. Apart from this weird way of pushing things forward, the book is a great source of information. Especially about the history of the 20th century in Iran up to the Islamic Revolution (it was written only a few years after that) but also about how the ideas that drove people through the 20th century and to the Islamic Revolution were developed during the previous thousand years. My favourite part, I think, was the explanation how the hierarchy of Shia scholars evolved through time. The part about the 20th century was a bit more messy, but that's understandable: a lot happened in that time. I think I'll go through the book once again quickly to note down all the important names and search for them on Wikipedia.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Fiza Irfan

    Book Review💥 "The Mantle of the Prophet" by Roy Mottahedeh If you're interested in history, if you wanna know about the cultural and political dynamics of Iran then this book is for you. I assure you wouldn't regret reading it. The Mantle of the Prophet is the fusion of autobiography of a Mullah of Qom, Iran, Ali Hashemi which resonates with the national, cultural and political history of Iran, as well as the trends which ultimately led to the REVOLUTION of 1979. For writer, the core of Iranian c Book Review💥 "The Mantle of the Prophet" by Roy Mottahedeh If you're interested in history, if you wanna know about the cultural and political dynamics of Iran then this book is for you. I assure you wouldn't regret reading it. The Mantle of the Prophet is the fusion of autobiography of a Mullah of Qom, Iran, Ali Hashemi which resonates with the national, cultural and political history of Iran, as well as the trends which ultimately led to the REVOLUTION of 1979. For writer, the core of Iranian culture is its "two-heartedness"--- Persian for ambiguity. Throughout its history, Iran has a destiny of change and re-definition. The book not only contains the full fledged image of Ali Hashemi, but also covers the lives of the significant personalities of Iran starting from Ibn e Sina( or Avicenna), Isa Sadiq(the foremost historian of modern Iranian culture), Muhammad Mossadegh( the prime minister who defied the US & Britain to nationalize Iranian oil in 1951, Ayatollah Khomeini and many others.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    Having spent the last year living in Iran and studying Iranian Studies at the University of Tehran, the book provides a distinctive view of Iran, predominantly during the time between the two revolutions, but there's also extensive discussion on important figures such as Avicenna, Jalale Ahmad. One the one hand, Mottahedeh tellls the fictional story of a mullah named Ali, who comes from a prominent sayyed family in Qom, and his journey through the Islamic learning system from Qom to Najaf and to Having spent the last year living in Iran and studying Iranian Studies at the University of Tehran, the book provides a distinctive view of Iran, predominantly during the time between the two revolutions, but there's also extensive discussion on important figures such as Avicenna, Jalale Ahmad. One the one hand, Mottahedeh tellls the fictional story of a mullah named Ali, who comes from a prominent sayyed family in Qom, and his journey through the Islamic learning system from Qom to Najaf and to the Universit of the Tehran from around the 50s until a few years after the revolution. While non-fictional discussions on important figures, movements, ideologies of contemporary Iranian history, including an extensive and very interesting discussion on Sufi Islam. This book sparked my interest in Sufi Islam as well as the marriage between Jalale Ahmad and Ali Shariati, with Ayatollah Khomeini.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Faisal Ahmed

    I expected a chronological rundown of modern era Iran, but instead got something which much more relevant and valuable. The author delves deep and presents an intellectual history of the country, which is a crucial element in understanding political events in the 20th century. From the effect of Leftist intellectuals, to western interference to the gradually growing political importance of juriconsults and mullahs, it makes it easier to understand and appreciate political change in the complex e I expected a chronological rundown of modern era Iran, but instead got something which much more relevant and valuable. The author delves deep and presents an intellectual history of the country, which is a crucial element in understanding political events in the 20th century. From the effect of Leftist intellectuals, to western interference to the gradually growing political importance of juriconsults and mullahs, it makes it easier to understand and appreciate political change in the complex entity that is Iran. The (fictitious?) conversations are the favorite part of my book. There is plenty of delightful back and forth on many subjects; reconciling modernity and religion for example. It really gives a fascinating insight into public attitudes throughout the century

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carole

    A book full of cultural, religious and political history of Iran. So hard to come by, at least for me. And boy is this a fabulous book. You know a book is good when you are so immersed in the main character's daily growth you feel as if you are right there with him as he experiences everything. Please read, you will not be sorry.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    Mottahedeh does an impressive job of painting the social and religious context of Iran, especially regarding the experience and importance of the mullahs. This book is fascinating, and a really enjoyable read. I'm going to need to read it again sometime.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Wessel

    One of my favorite historical books ever written: its the perfect combination of historical scholarship, a grand well-written narrative with a beginning and a great insight in Iran, Shiism, Islamic philosophy and ultimately human beings.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matice Maino

    Good depiction of Iranian history and culture, though at times the descriptions can get quite lengthy and I lost my focus. great if you want a more memoir style recount of the events leading up to the revolution from the perspective of a mullah.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    A long winded way to begin to understand modern day Iran. Tells the history mostly from the point of view of those in the religious establishment. Your heart will go out to Iran as you read it. It is not outdated. I read this to learn more after reading All the Shah's Men. If you want to get inside the Iranian head this is a great start.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    An incredibly important book about Iran if a bit dry at times.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Duane Russell Demers

    One of the best history books I’ve ever read. Learned so much, so many details. The writing was excellent and made it the joy it was to read and learn.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carrie A

    Excellent

  22. 5 out of 5

    Umar Shaikh

    A very comprehensive look at recent Iranian history, intertwined with a narrative about a madresa student that together made this book very pleasurable to read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alex Yard

    This was all right, but it was sort of a stumbling book upon which to begin my investigations on Islam and Middle Eastern Nations. The book alternates between two threads. One is a comprehensive history of Iran, the other is the memoir of Ali Hashemi, an Iranian mullah (a mullah is sort of the religious/educational equivalent of a priest, but instead of having religious authority, the authority is in the domain of interpreting Islamic text and law. I read this book primarily because I wanted to un This was all right, but it was sort of a stumbling book upon which to begin my investigations on Islam and Middle Eastern Nations. The book alternates between two threads. One is a comprehensive history of Iran, the other is the memoir of Ali Hashemi, an Iranian mullah (a mullah is sort of the religious/educational equivalent of a priest, but instead of having religious authority, the authority is in the domain of interpreting Islamic text and law. I read this book primarily because I wanted to understand what everyday, common folk Muslim Iranians are like, separated from the extremist stereotypes often depicted in the media which, while they do represent a real subsection of the world population, certainly do not represent all Muslims everywhere. As far as painting this portrait, the book only half-delivered. When it dealt with the common people, it only really dealt with it in terms of Ali in his highly intellectual community. The focus was on the religious intellectual elite vs. the increasingly secular and corrupt government, not really the average joes, which was disappointing. I also wanted to understand the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but the book didn't really deliver on that either, because the book was published in 1985, so the events are only addressed toward the end and in an inconclusive fashion because at that point in time, the ultimate effect/outcome of the revolution was still pending. But at least it sufficiently depicted the government's actions that led to civilian unrest in the 70s. I also wanted to learn about the CIA's coup of President Mossadegh in the 1950s, and the book was disappointing on that because it presented it sort of vaguely and didn't really take a stance on it. You could say that overall, the book never really took a stance. I wanted to learn about this incident because I understand it to be one of the reasons for Middle Eastern nations' resentment toward the USA, but it was documented in this book in a way that didn't give me a solid basis for evaluating it either way. I liked learning about the belief system Iran had prior to the seventh century, and its conquering/transition to Islam was interesting too. And I was certainly invested in learning the differences between Sunni and Shiah Islam, but I think I need to read a different book that addresses this in greater and clearer depth. Suffice to say that this book was so all-over-the-place that it was hard to examine individual events with enough clarity. The other thread in the book, documenting the life of Mullah Ali Hashemi, was all right in the beginning because I liked the memoirs of what his life was like in the educational system of the 19th century. But as his narrative progressed it was just him vs. the many different schools of thought that jostled to have a definitive interpretation of the Koran and how it applies to modern law. For Ali himself it was a little bit of navelgazing. Therefore on the topic of Islam and modern Middle Eastern Countries, I have higher expectations for other books I'll read on the topic.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Edith

    Dr. Mottahedeh’s book uses the personal narrative of a character (a talabeh and eventually mullah “Seyyed Ali Hashemi”) as a nexus tying together his work on the forces and developments that shaped modern Iran, eventually leading to the revolution of 1979. The book explores a variety of factors contributing to the Islamic Revolution. Though mainly a modern history of Iran, the book incorporates elements from a variety of historical subfields - religious, social, intellectual, political, art hist Dr. Mottahedeh’s book uses the personal narrative of a character (a talabeh and eventually mullah “Seyyed Ali Hashemi”) as a nexus tying together his work on the forces and developments that shaped modern Iran, eventually leading to the revolution of 1979. The book explores a variety of factors contributing to the Islamic Revolution. Though mainly a modern history of Iran, the book incorporates elements from a variety of historical subfields - religious, social, intellectual, political, art history - that help deepen one’s understanding of Iran. In this respect, Dr. Mottahedeh was careful to include vivid descriptions of the setting (Qom, the seminary city that is the intellectual center of Iranian Shi’ism), the role of Shi’i rituals (the passion plays of Moharram; the pilgrimage to the shrines), the curriculum of the madresehs (especially the Shi’i emphasis on Aristotelian logic, in contrast to Sunni thought that rejected the reasoning technique in matters of theology, preferring to defer to revelations and traditions), the special place Iranian society held for the seyyed class, the economy of the bazaar, Persian poetry, etc. These discussions helped to illuminate the complex entity of Iran, and paints a fuller portrait of the society and how it drifted towards the brink of revolution than a work that only dealt with political-economy or political history. Just like the conversation between “Ali” and his teacher in Najaf on the Aristotelian concepts of sufficient versus material causes, Dr. Mottahedeh’s work suggests that political change has many material causes. A number of such factors are apolitical in their origins and inert for centuries, but their convergence at an opportune time can be a force to be reckoned with, and therefore they are worthy of scholarly attention. This is powerful introduction to Iran, easy to read but also deals with complex issues, The perspective (from the point of view of a mullah) provides an alternative narrative, since most popular memoirs of the Iranian Revolution - such as “Persepolis” - come from the leftist, urban-intellectual perspective, where the supporters of the Islamic regime are portrayed as bearded hordes imposing a medieval agenda on Iran. “The Mantle of the Prophet” shows how simplistic this conception is and gives us an inside look at the madreseh tradition, as well as into the inner, intellectual life of the seyyeds and mullahs. It suggests that these Iranian “traditionalists” are more dynamic in their attitudes than they get credit for, and the dichotomy of the “intellectuals” versus the “mullahs” isn’t as rigid as imagined. After all, the Islamic Revolution started out with a lot of popular support in the traditional areas, and this book gives us a glimpse of why Shi’iism extends such powerful appeal for Iranians.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Erik Dryden

    This was one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. It tells the story of revolutionary Iran through the experiences of Ali Hashemi, a composite character largely based on an acquaintance of the author. Ali is a sayyed and liberal Shiah mullah who feels most comfortable reading books and debating with his friends. He has problems with the Shah and with conservative Muslim ideology. Mottahedeh uses the story of Ali as a starting point to examining the history and ideas that led to the Is This was one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. It tells the story of revolutionary Iran through the experiences of Ali Hashemi, a composite character largely based on an acquaintance of the author. Ali is a sayyed and liberal Shiah mullah who feels most comfortable reading books and debating with his friends. He has problems with the Shah and with conservative Muslim ideology. Mottahedeh uses the story of Ali as a starting point to examining the history and ideas that led to the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He does a tremendous job of placing events and people in the context of the times in which they occurred or lived. The book can be difficult at times, only because it is so densely packed with information. Iran's history is investigated from the point of view of its most important leaders and thinkers, dating from Avicenna (and even earlier) to Khomeini and his contemporaries. The philosophies and religious and political viewpoints of these men are discussed in exhausting, yet fascinating, detail. I would recommend this book to anyone who is even a little interested in the cultural history that led to modern Iran.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    In "Mantle," Ray Mottahedeh portrays a made up Mullah living during the time of the 1978 Revolution. In the course of narrating the Mullah's biography up to its main turning point, the author progresses through a series of topical histories encompassing life and culture in Iran. The narrative is divided into themes such as poetry, medicine, and religious scholarship. For the most part, the author connects these themes to modern Iranian culture, describing important events and lives, ultimately cr In "Mantle," Ray Mottahedeh portrays a made up Mullah living during the time of the 1978 Revolution. In the course of narrating the Mullah's biography up to its main turning point, the author progresses through a series of topical histories encompassing life and culture in Iran. The narrative is divided into themes such as poetry, medicine, and religious scholarship. For the most part, the author connects these themes to modern Iranian culture, describing important events and lives, ultimately creating a detailed context for the life of an Iranian Everyman, Ali Hashemi. In the life of Hashemi, the author elaborates upon the nation's idiosyncratic modern-day blend of ancient traditions and 20th century upheaval, making use of the rich context provided in the thematic expositions to integrate the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions of an ancient country hurtling toward an uncertain but novel future. Meanwhile, passages describing to the small glories and fatal hazards of everyday existence provide the reader with a sense of what it feels like to be there.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    This was a long book filled with good writing, and if it had been on a topic of more a personal interest to me, it would have received a higher rating. As it was, though, this was a text for a course I recently completed on analysis. This book was intended to be the 'cultural lens' contribution to the overall curriculum. In that respect, it is not bad, but as I stated at the outset, I don't have a great deal of personal interest in Iranian politics and religion, but do understand their overall s This was a long book filled with good writing, and if it had been on a topic of more a personal interest to me, it would have received a higher rating. As it was, though, this was a text for a course I recently completed on analysis. This book was intended to be the 'cultural lens' contribution to the overall curriculum. In that respect, it is not bad, but as I stated at the outset, I don't have a great deal of personal interest in Iranian politics and religion, but do understand their overall significance to American national security. Thus, this book's inclusion in the course work.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mark Jensen

    very interesting although a long, deep read. it reassures my 'love of ambiguity'. When, the flexible persian culture seen by expats living abroad is highlighted by individualism and love for poetry and music, while religion still served the basis for knowledge. Now, the mullah as a client to support the crash between traditional religious life and modernity has disappeared. Ambiguity must survive, gray is good.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    This is one of the more remarkable books I've read. According people in the know (i.e. not me), it is a very thinly veiled biography of one person in particular, though obviously bits of other people's life stories are inserted to prevent identification. As my professors said, Roy Mottadeh had one truly important book inside him, and this is it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Eric Randolph

    A strange and truly original take on the Iranian revolution, originally written in the still-burning days of the 1980s - it often disappears down tangents that are entirely confusing but it there is great wisdom in here and it is a powerful antidote to the textbook-like approach of most books on modern Iran.

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