Religion:Cultural Revolution in Iran

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Short description: Purging of non-Islamic influences among academia after the 1979 Islamic Revolution

The Cultural Revolution (1980–1983; Persian: انقلاب فرهنگی‎: Enqelābe Farhangi) was a period following the Iranian Revolution, when the academia of Iran was purged of Western and non-Islamic influences, (including traditionalist unpolitical Islamic doctrines) to align them with the revolutionary and political Islam. The cultural revolution sometimes involved violence in taking over the university campuses, as higher education in Iran had many secularist and leftist forces who were opposed to Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic state in Iran.[1][clarification needed] The official name used by the Islamic Republic is "Cultural Revolution".

Directed by the Cultural Revolutionary Headquarters and later by the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, the revolution initially closed universities for three years (1980–1983) and after reopening banned many books and purged thousands of students and lecturers from the schools.[2] The cultural revolution sometimes involved violence in taking over the university campuses. Higher education in Iran had many leftist forces who were opposed to Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic state in Iran. The resistance of Khomeiniist control at many universities was largely unsuccessful. How many students or faculty were killed is not known.[1][3][4]

The government's process of censoring foreign influences has not been without consequences. In addition to interrupting the freedom, education and professional livelihood of many, and striking "a major blow to Iran's cultural and intellectual life and achievement,"[5] it contributed to the emigration of many teachers and technocrats. This loss of job skills and capital weakened Iran's economy.

Officials and founders

Some 700 University professors from Iran's academic institutions in a short time.[6][7]

Name Title
Ruhollah Khomeini Co-founder
Ali Khamenei Co-founder and head of the council
Mohammad Javad Bahonar Council members
Ahmad Ahmadi
Jalaleddin Farsi
Mehdi Golshani
Hassan Habibi
Ali Shariatmadari
Abdolkarim Soroush
Mostafa Moin Minister of Science
Hassan Arefi

Islamization of universities

The shutdown of the universities was preceded by attacks on foreign forces on university campuses. On April 18, 1980, after Friday prayers, Khomeini gave a speech harshly attacking the universities.

We are not afraid of economic sanctions or military intervention. What we are afraid of is Western universities and the training of our youth in the interests of West or East.


His remarks are thought to have "served as a signal for an attack that evening on the Tehran Teachers Training College" by his supporters, the Hezbollahi. One student was reportedly lynched, and according to a British correspondent, the campus was left looking like an `a combat zone.` The next day, Hezbollahis ransacked left-wing student offices at Shiraz University. Some 300 students required hospital treatment. Attacks on student groups also took place at Mashad and Isfahan Universities."[9] Attacks continued April 21 and "the next day at the Universities at Ahwaz and Rasht. Over 20 people lost their lives in these university confrontations. ... The universities closed soon after the April confrontation for Islamization`. They were not to open for another two years."[9]

The main theme of the movement was to purify the universities and education system of foreign influences. In his original letter, Khomeini wrote: Set yourselves free from any " –ism" and " –ist" belonging to the East and the West. Be self-dependent and do not expect any help from the foreigners.[10]

After shutting down the universities on 12 June 1980,[11] Khomeini issued a letter, stating:[citation needed]

The need for Cultural Revolution which is an Islamic issue and demand of the Muslim nation has been recognized for sometimes but so far no effective effort has been made to respond to this need and the Muslim nation and the devoted and faithful students, in particular, are concerned and are worried of the machinations of plotters, which every now and then become evident and the Muslim nation are worried that God forbidden the opportunity is missed and no positive action is taken and the culture remains the same as the time of the corrupt regime which the cultured officials put these important centers under the disposal of colonialists. Continuation of this disaster which is, unfortunately, the objective of some the foreign oriented groups would deal a heavy blow to Islamic Revolution and Islamic Republic and any indifference towards this vital issue would be great treason against Islam and the Islamic country.


The "Committee for Islamization of Universities" carried out the task by ensuring an "Islamic atmosphere" for every subject from engineering to the humanities.[11][12] The headquarters deleted certain courses such as music as "fake knowledge," and committees "came to similar conclusions concerning all subjects in the humanities such as law, political sciences, economy, psychology, education and sociology".[2]

When the institutions reopened, purges continued for five more years with special focus on "Islam’s enemies".[13] Students were screened by committees and those found unfit were not allowed to continue their studies.[14] Students in the University instructor program, for example, "were required to be practicing Muslims, to declare their loyalty to ... the doctrine of the vice regency of the faqih. Non-Muslims were required to refrain from behavior `offensive to Muslims,` and were excluded from all fields of study except accounting and foreign languages."[15]

Outside of the universities, the Cultural Revolution affected some non-academic cultural and scientific figures who it publicly denounced, and the broadcasts of Iranian radio and television, which were now limited to religious and official programs.[16]


The Cultural Revolution united the theological schools in Qom with state universities and brought secular teachers to Qom for a time. This had the unexpected result of exposing many students in Qom to Western thought so that it is possible to find "Islamic scholars and teachers of theology who know something of contemporary Western thought and philosophy."

Another aspect was that many teachers, engineers, economists, doctors, and technocrats left Iran to escape the Cultural Revolution.[17] While the revolution achieved its goal of ridding the universities of Western influence, it also greatly weakened Iran in the fields of science and technology needed for development.[18]

Institutions of the revolution

The Cultural Revolution Headquarters was established June 12, 1980, and charged by Ayatollah Khomeini with making sure that the cultural policy of the universities was based on Islam, that selected professors were "efficient, committed and vigilant," and dealing with other issues relevant to the Islamic academic revolution.[19]

It was continued by the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council[20][citation needed] in December 1984. It was described as "the highest body for making policies and decisions in connection with cultural, educational and research activities within the framework of the general policies of the system and considered its approvals indispensable." The body is not stipulated in the Constitution but "was formed under the special circumstances that were prevailing in the early stages of the revolution. The council took its legitimacy from the 9 December 1984 decree of the founder of the Islamic Republic."[2]

This group of seven (in 1980-83) and then 17 (in 1984) that was later expanded to 36 in 1999 was expected to compile and organize all the cultural policies of the country.[1] Hojjatol-Islam Mohammad Khatami was appointed as a member of the High Council for Cultural Revolution[21] in 1996[22][citation needed] and became its head in 1997. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the head of the Council in 2005, succeeding Khatami; Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has oversight over the Council.

The Council had been active in repressing the student movement of 1983–1989, "banning many books and purging thousands of students and lecturers." The council controls the affairs of the universities and their students by supervising the selection of applicants to the university and by controlling the formation of collegiate institutions.[2]

Since 2001, the Council has frequently called for or demanded either outright state control or governmental filtering of the internet to prevent the dissemination of blasphemy, insults to Iran's Supreme Leader, opposition to the Constitution, the creation of "pessimism and hopelessness among the people regarding the legitimacy and effectiveness of the [Islamic] system", and similar offensive content.[2]

Current work

The Cultural Council continues ensuring that the education and culture of Iran remain "100% Islamic", per Khomeini's mandate. In 2006, there were rumors of universities internally "bracing" for "tighter state control over student bodies and faculties and perhaps even the second ‘Cultural Revolution.'" [23] This came after Ahmadinejad was elected as Iran's president in 2005 and became the head of the Council. It has resulted in either dismissal or compulsory retirement for veteran university faculty members and their replacement with younger professors more loyal to the Islamic Republic.[24][citation needed] Many students have been harassed and occasionally incarcerated for writing against or speaking against the government and its policies.[25] The repressive focus on the academy stems from the history of Iranian schools and universities serving as the hotbeds of political opposition, particularly during the beginning of Reza Shah's government.[26]

The Council and its subordinate institutions have been adopting more progressive policies in a departure from certain instances in the past. In the year 1987, there was the creation of the Social and Cultural Council of Women. This agency aggressively defended women's rights and eliminated restrictions that were previously imposed by the High Council of the Cultural Revolution.[27]


The Cultural Council has 41 members,[28][citation needed] most of whom hold other government posts as well.

See also

  • Cultural Revolution, earlier event in the People's Republic of China
  • Cultural Revolution (USSR), earlier event in the Soviet Union
  • Islamic Revolutionary Court deals with "treason against Islam" and other matters.
  • Islamic conquest of Persia
  • Farrokhroo Parsa

References and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Shahrzad Mojab (Summer 2004), "State-University Power Struggle at Times of Revolution and War in Iran", International Higher Education, archived from the original on 2004-06-22, 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Supreme Cultural Revolution Council
  3. Shahrzad Mojab (Summer 2004), "State-University Power Struggle at Times of Revolution and War in Iran", International Higher Education, archived from the original on 2004-06-22,, "the gangs wounded hundreds of students and killed at least 24" 
  4. Dr. Younus Shaikh, Islam and the Woman, Part 3,, retrieved 2006-11-23, ""There were 5,195 political and religious executions only in 1983 alone!" 
  5. Keddie, Modern Iran, (2006), p.250
  6. [http:/\le=Hammihan Newspaper "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}"]. http:/\le=Hammihan Newspaper. 
  7. ":: FARHANGSHAHR". 
  8. Allawi, Ali A. (2009-04-28) (in en). Crisis of Islamic Civilization. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-15885-4. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bakhash, Shaul (1984). The Reign of the Ayatollahs. Basic Books. p. 122. 
  10. "سایت سازمان صدا و سیما | مرجع پخش زنده و جدول پخش شبکه ها". 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "History of SCCR". 
  12. "Philosophy in Tehran | Dissent Magazine" (in en-US). Dissent Magazine. 
  13. Foundation anniversary of the Islamic Propagation Organization (I.O.P) by Khomeini's order Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting
  14. Kimia Sanati. "Students Brace for Second 'Cultural Revolution'". Archived from the original on 2007-02-25. 
  15. source: advertisement in Ettelaat (2 August 1982), Bakhash, Shaul The Reign of the Ayatollahs, Basic Books, (1984) p.226
  16. Keddie, Modern Iran (2003), p,290
  17. M.ibrahimn, Youssef (14 October 1979). "INSIDE IRAN'S CULTURAL REVOLUTION" (in en). The New York Times. 
  18. Keddie, Modern Iran, (2003), p.290
  19. John Pike. "Supreme Cultural Revolution Council (SCRC)". 
  20. "Objectives of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution". 
  21. Another name for the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council.
  22. "President of I.R.Iran,Mohammad Khatami". 
  23. "Students Brace for Second 'Cultural Revolution'". Archived from the original on 2007-02-25. 
  24. Ahmadinejad seeks purge of liberal profsAP via Yahoo! News 5 September 2006 [|permanent dead link|dead link}}]
  25. "'Cultural Revolution' Redux" (in en). FRONTLINE - Tehran Bureau. 
  26. Razavi, Reza (2009). "The Cultural Revolution in Iran, with Close Regard to the Universities, and Its Impact on the Student Movement". Middle Eastern Studies 45 (1): 1–17. doi:10.1080/00263200802547586. 
  27. Povey, Tara (2016). Women, Power and Politics in 21st Century Iran. Oxon: Routledge. pp. 41. ISBN 9781409402046. 
  28. "Members of SCCR -". 

Further reading

External links