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Qom

By:
Michael M. J. Fischer, Omid Ghaemmaghami
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Qom

A small provincial town south of Tehran, Qom (or Qum) is the site of Ḥaz̤rat-i Maʿṣūmah, the shrine of Fāṭimah, sister of the eight Imam, the second most important Shīʿī shrine in Iran. Qom is also the leading center of Shīʿī theological seminaries in Iran. A number of Shīʿī periodicals and journals are published in Qom, which is also home to several prominent publishing houses. In addition, a number of major international Shīʿī Web sites are maintained in the city.

The gold-domed shrine and its spacious courtyard are filled daily with pilgrims. Entry to the shrine is through a mirrored portal from the Atabegi Courtyard, built in 1883, along the sides of which are graves of nobles and ministers of the Qājār dynasty. The present dome was constructed under the Ṣafavids and gilded by the Qājārs. Four Ṣafavid shahs are buried in a mosque behind the main shrine, as are three leaders of the Qom seminaries. Behind the shrine is the new blue-domed Aʿẓam or Borujerdi Mosque, a major teaching space for the highest level of study, the dars-i khārij. Two Qājār shahs are buried to the right of the shrine in the Old Courtyard, behind which are two more courtyards, turned by the Ṣafavids into the Dār al-Shifāʿ and Fayz̤īyah seminaries, centers of political activity in 1963, 1975, and 1977–1979. The shrine courtyard and the Borujerdi Mosque are important places for communal prayers and sermons. The shrine has been an economic and state institution, a focus of endowments and commercial rents dedicated to its upkeep, as well as a symbolic site whose opening and closing each day is accompanied by state-appointed guards chanting the sovereignty of the reigning government under Allāh.

With little modern industry, the town depends economically on its farming hinterland and produces some fine carpets, but primarily it provides services to pilgrims, religious students, and the religious establishment. Although Qom has a madrasah (seminary) tradition that can be traced back a thousand years, the current set of madrasahs are only some fifty years old and provided a major center of resistance to the Pahlavi monarchy. When Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini returned to Iran to lead the Islamic Revolution of 1979, he went immediately to Qom. Although Khomeini, as head of state, later moved to Tehran, Qom remained a key seat of educational and political organizations of the ʿulamāʿ (clergy). Qom's history provides a microcosm of currents in Iran's state-clergy relations, from the time of the establishment of Islam to that of the struggles to establish Shiism.

Early History.

Qom's historians revel in its reputation as an obstreperous Shīʿī center, tracing this posture back to the early Shīʿī resistance to the Umayyads. According to a ḥadīth ascribed to Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, the city was named Qom because its people will rise up with the Qāʿim (yaqūmūna maʿahu) at the time of his appearance. Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿarī, a representative of the first Imam, ʿAlī, visited Qom in AH 23/644 CE, but Qom remained Zoroastrian and paid jizyah (the tax on protected minorities) for some time. The great Sassanian ritual fire in the nearby village of Mazdiajan was extinguished only in AH 288/899 CE by the governor of Qom, Bayram Türk.

Qom, however, became a refuge for opponents of the Umayyads during this early period. After Muṭraf ibn Mughīrah's revolt against the governor of Iraq, Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf al-Thaqafī, failed in AH66–67/685–687 CE, a group of his followers, the Banī Asad, came to settle in a village outside of Qom, called Jamkarān (see below). A decade later refugees from the unsuccessful jihād of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad al-Ashʿath (governor of Sīstān) against Ḥajjāj also came to Qom (c.78/697). ʿAbd al-Raḥmān's army had included seventeen tābiʿūn (disciples of the Prophet's companions), and among the refugees who came to Qom were believers who had fought with Mukhtār in the unsuccessful attempt to revenge Ḥusayn in Kufa under the banner of his brother, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥanafīyah. The first of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān's followers to arrive in Qom were the brothers ʿAbd Allāh and Ahwas Ashʿarī. They were welcomed by the Zoroastrian Yazdān Fizar of Abrastigān Qom and were given a village, Muḥammadan, apparently in recognition of aid the Ashʿarīs had previously given Qom in efforts to stay independent of the Daylamīs. The alliance was short-lived, however: a quarrel broke out, and the Ashʿarīs were asked to leave; instead they slaughtered the leading Zoroastrians. The other Zoroastrians began to leave or converted to Islam. Among the Ashʿarī sons were twelve ruwāh (transmitters of riwāyat or ḥadīth) of Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, the twelfth Imam.

From these beginnings, Qom developed a reputation for resisting Sunnī governors and their tax demands. Ḥusayn Mudarrisī Ṭabāṭabāʿī lists five occasions in the ninth century alone when the town had to be militarily reduced before taxes could be collected. In contrast, a Shīʿī governor was given so much cooperation that he was removed by the caliph lest he claim independence. During the ninth century there were 266 Shīʿī ʿulamāʿ and fourteen Sunnī ʿulamāʿ in the town; among the former were the Bābūyah family and their most renowned son, counted now as a marjaʿ al-taqlīd (supreme guide in religious matters), Shaykh al-Ṣadūq ibn Bābūyah. On these grounds, Qom lays claim to being an older ḥawzah-i ʿilmī (center of religious learning) than Najaf (in southern Iraq), although the scholarly tradition had periods of virtual disappearance.

It was to this Shīʿī town that Fāṭimah, the sister of the eighth Imam, ʿAlī al-Riḍā, came when she fell ill in Saveh (then a Sunnī town), en route to visit her brother in Mashhad. She died in Qom, and over the years her grave has come to be the second most important shrine of Iran: the shrine of Ḥaz̤rat-i Maʿṣūmah, Fāṭimah. The first mutawallī (administrator) of the shrine, Aḥmad ibn Isḥāq Ashʿarī, appears to have been a representative of the eleventh Imam and was of the Ashʿarī family. The first dome was constructed over the grave in the sixth century, and the shrine apparently served as a pilgrimage site for Sunnīs as well as Shīʿīs. Fāṭimah's sister has a smaller shrine in the village of Kohak, a place that at times competed with Qom for predominance.

By the ninth/fifteenth century Qom's identity had begun to crystallize: it became, in addition to a Shīʿī center and a shrine, a place of royal interest. Jahān Shah, Uzun Ḥasan, Sultan Yaʿqūb, Alvand Sultan, and Sultan Murād all used Qom as a winter hunting capital (Uzun Ḥasan was visited here by envoys from Venice), and Sultan Muḥammad Bahādur briefly established a semi-independent state centered on Qom. Jahān Shah Karakoyunlu issued the earliest extant firmān (royal order), dated 867/1462, naming Aḥmad Niẓām al-Dīn as mutawallī of the shrine and naqīb (local head) of the sayyids. He also sponsored majlis wāʿiz (preaching sessions) in Qom. From later firmāns it becomes clear that the two jobs of naqīb and mutawallī always went together and were assumed to be hereditary in the Razavī sayyid family of Mūsā Mubāqah, which had come to Qom in the ninth century and has a large group of mausoleums on the edge of town.

Qom under the S.afavids and Qājārs.

The Ṣafavid shahs Ismāʿīl and Ṭahmāsp continued the tradition of using Qom as a winter capital. But the Ṣafavids built Qom into something much grander than it had ever been. The tombs of shahs ʿAbbās II, Ṣafī, Sulaymān, and Sultan Ḥusayn were placed here, near the shrine of Fāṭimah. The shrine was refurbished and two of its four courtyards were turned into the Madrasah-i Fayz̤īyah, with a small hospital behind for pilgrims, called the Dār al-Shafāʿ. Important teachers were brought in: mullahs Muḥsin Fayz̤, ʿAbd al-Razzāq Lāhījī, Ṣadrā Shīrāzī, Ṭāhir Qummī, and Qāz̤ī Saʿīd.

Several administrative arrangements were tried: for a while the governor was the mutawallī; for a while there were three mutawallīs, one each for the tombs of Fāṭimah, Shah ʿAbbās II, and Shah Ṣafī. But the main mutawallī was Mīrzā Ḥabīb Allāh ibn Mīr Ḥusayn Khātim al-Mujtahidīn, who was succeeded by his descendants; he had been brought from Lebanon by Shah Ṭahmāsp with his father and two brothers. The two brothers were made mutawallīs of the Shah ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm shrine in Rey and the Shah Ṣafī shrine in Ardabīl. These jobs remained hereditary until 1965, when Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi ousted the family from their position. Although the custom may be older, under the Ṣafavids the shrine became a place of basṭ-nishīn (sanctuary), where one could take refuge from the law until a judgment thought to be unfair could be sorted out. At times this legal recourse degenerated into a device used mainly by debtors.

The Qājārs continued the tradition of placing royal and noble mausoleums at the shrine of Fāṭimah, with the tombs of Fatḥ ʿAlī Shah, Muḥammad Shah, and many Qājār ministers, Qāʿimmaqām and Mīrzā ʿAlī Akbar Khān among others. They rebuilt sections of the shrine, the grand Ṣaḥn-i Jadīd (New Courtyard) being built by Amīn al-Sulṭān in 1883. The basṭ tradition continued despite efforts by the prime minister, Mīrzā ʿAlī Akbar Khān, to abolish it. The madrasahs, however, lost their vitality after the death of the scholar Mīrzā Qummī in 1231/1804, although several of them were rebuilt under Fatḥ ʿAlī Shah (1797–1834), and the Jānī Khān Madrasah was rebuilt under Nāṣir al-Dīn Shah (1848–1896).

The Twentieth Century.

In the twentieth century two social vectors became increasingly important and contested: first, the ḥawzah-i ʿilmī was reestablished in Qom, but this time not through royal or aristocratic patronage; second, the Pahlavi state began to eliminate or reduce the spheres of influence claimed by the religious leaders—law, education, endowments, registry of contracts, and, through control of television and radio, even the dissemination of religious propaganda.

The year 1920, when Shaykh ʿAbd al-Karīm Ḥāʿirī-Yazdī arrived from Arak (Soltanabad) after leaving Iraq, is usually given for the modern founding of the ḥawzah-i ʿilmī of Qom. Ḥāʿirī-Yazdī arrived as part of the exodus back to Iran by Shīʿī leaders who were concerned that the uncertain transition between Ottoman and British rule in Iraq might jeopardize their position in the ʿatabāt (shrine towns of Iraq). Shaykh Murtaz̤ā Anṣārī earlier had sent Mīr Muḥammad ʿAlī Shushtarī Jazāyirī to reconnoiter Qom and Mashhad. Then in 1916 Ayatollah Fayz̤ Qummī, joined later by others, returned to Qom to restore the old madrasahs to their original purpose. Shops and storage areas had to be converted back to student rooms in the Madrasah Fayz̤īyah. Even bakeries had to be set up. Over the course of a full century—since the death in 1815 of Mīrzā Qummī, author of the Qawānīn (Laws)—Qom's madrasahs had fallen into disuse and ruin, and the town had suffered “an intellectual famine” (Rahimi, 1961).

After establishing a minimal basis for a ḥawzah-i ʿilmī, Ayatollah Mīrzā Maḥmūd Rūḥānī and Shaykh Ḥusayn Qummī were dispatched to Arak to invite and persuade Ḥāʿirī-Yazdī to come. He did so, bringing with him a large following, including those who were to succeed him after his death in 1935: Ayatollahs Muḥammad ʿAlī Ḥaʿirī Qummī (d. 1939) and Muḥammad Ḥujjat Kūhkamarī came immediately, as did Khomeini and Muḥammad Riz̤ā Gulpāygānī; Aḥmad Khusārī came in 1923, Shihāb al-Dīn Marʿashī and Muḥammad Kāẓim Sharīʿatmadārī in 1924, and Ayatollah Ṣadr al-Dīn Ṣadr in 1930. Almost immediately upon the reestablishment of the Qom ḥawzah, it was able to play host to refugees from Iraq, as Shīʿī resistance to the British caused for short periods both the voluntary and non-voluntary exile of students and teachers.

How much the growth of the madrasahs changed life in Qom can only be estimated from a series of incidents: the campaign of Ayatollah Bāfqī to keep men from cutting their beards, the calls by Nūr Allāh Iṣfahānī in Qom for the ouster of the dictator Reza Shah (1925), the clash between Bāfqī and Reza Shah over the veiling of the royal women in the shrine, the burning of wine shops, opposition to modern schools, opposition to the enfranchisement of women, student harangues against the Tudeh (Communist) party, and opposition to the introduction of cinema and television. Not all the acts of the religious leaders, however, were conservative in this sense, as can be seen in their leadership in building hospitals, welfare systems, libraries, and flood walls. Indeed, some of the conservatism was reaction to Pahlavi government-led anticlericalism. Some of the ʿulamāʿ had helped with the establishment of modern schools at the turn of the century, but by the 1930s people who grew up in Qom, especially girls, told stories of having to dodge heckling ṭalabah (religious students) on their way to school. The ambivalence of the ʿulamāʿ had to do with the growth of government regulatory functions in education and in the administration of endowments (a key source of revenue). Secular education beyond elementary school did not exist until 1935, but a coeducational school opened that year, adult education was offered by the government, and fifteen more schools were opened in the next two years; by 1937 there were three high schools.

Conflict between the State and the Clerics.

These were years of great pressure against the religious establishment. The great struggle over dressing like Europeans and unveiling women came in 1935–1936. Attempts were made to license those who had a right to wear religious garb (that is, traditional dress), and the number of ṭalabah began to decline, reaching a low of five hundred or fewer at the end of Reza Shah's reign in 1941. When Ḥāʿirī-Yazdī died in 1935, not only were laws in effect against rawz̤ah khvānī recitations, but a formal death memorial for him was disallowed (though the influx of people into Qom to chant in the streets could not be prevented). In 1938 the government tried to introduce exams for the religious students to regulate their progress and to formalize procedures for exemption from the army. The examinations were evaded by a plea from the ḥawzah leadership that the date set had fallen on the death anniversary of Shaykh Muḥammad ʿAlī Qummī, and the students had to convene a memorial service. The government acquiesced and did not try to reinstitute the examinations. In 1975 those who were at least middle-level students and had six years of secular education could ask a committee of ḥawzah teachers to certify to the Office of Education that they were students in good standing, and this was forwarded with a request for deferment to the gendarmerie. Direct control over religious students thus was abandoned in favor of informal surveillance. Resistance to open procedures had led to expansion of covert procedures. Similarly, rejuvenation of the shrine with its endowments as a state-linked religious center and the expansion of control by the Office of Endowments over all religious endowments in Qom were viewed by the religious establishment as parts of a process directed against its claims to leadership in all religious and moral matters.

As tensions intensified, Qom became a site of increasing resistance to the policies of the Pahlavi state. In June 1963 and again in June 1975 there were major demonstrations in Qom that were direct precursors to the revolution of 1977–1979. In 1963 Khomeini was arrested for leading the opposition to the enfranchisement of women, the Local Council Election Bill of 1962, land reform, the six-point White Revolution, and a major military loan from the United States, which was tied to immunity from Iranian law for American service personnel. Three months earlier demonstrations by religious students had led to the occupation of the madrasahs of Qom by security forces. On the fifteenth of Khurdād (June 5), a date that was to become a symbolic anniversary thereafter and which fell at the end of the emotional first ten days of Muḥarram that year, Khomeini was arrested, and resistance among the religious students in the central Madrasah Fayz̤īyah was quelled, a number of students losing their lives by being tossed by gendarmes from the roof of the madrasah into the dry riverbed below. Within two hours of Khomeini's arrest in Qom, crowds had also gathered in front of the Tehran bazaar; by 10:00A.M. troops had fired on them. For three days disturbances continued in Tehran, Qom, Mashhad, Isfahan, and Shīrāz; thousands are said to have died.

Twelve years later, the fifteenth of Khurdād 1975 fell just after the new single-party state had been declared, during the registration for the first elections under the new Rāstakhīz party. Khomeini, who had been in exile since 1963, had smuggled into Iran pamphlets denouncing the new party as merely a tool for tightening the dictatorship. At the same time the anti-inflation campaign was moving into high gear, with many arrests of businesspeople. Students in Madrasah Fayz̤īyah began to recite twenty thousand blessings (ṣalavāt) on the defenders of Islam (Khomeini) and curses (laʿnāt) on the enemies of Islam (the shah), keeping count on their prayer beads. Crowds gathered. The police and elite army units moved in. The disturbances went on for three days.

In 1975 there were 6,414 students listed in the seminary registers. Only a quarter of these were unmarried. There was a small sprinkling of international students from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Lebanon, Tanzania, Turkey, Nigeria, Kashmir, and Indonesia. By social background, the two major sources of students were sons of farmers and sons of clerics. There were some fourteen traditional-style madrasahs and four innovative ones attempting to introduce modern teaching methods and subjects. The madrasahs and associated activities were roughly grouped into three major establishments around the three marjaʿ al-taqlīds: Sharīʿatmadārī, Gulpāygānī, and Marʿāshī Najafī. These establishments put out religious journals and books, sent missionaries abroad (to London, India, the Persian Gulf states, Africa, and elsewhere), and maintained a bureau of itinerant preachers who could be sent out to small villages.

Qom since the Iranian Revolution.

During the revolution of 1977–1979 Qom, of course, remained a focus of activity, and after the revolution it continued to play an important role in the affairs of the state and society. It is also the home not only of those religious leaders and lower-rank personnel who guide and support the religious leadership of the state, but also of several important figures who have criticized the state from within the ranks of Islamic ideology. The most famous of the latter group may be Grand Ayatollah Ḥusayn ʿAlī Muntaẓirī. In November 1997, protesters comprising seminary instructors and students attacked the offices of both Muntaẓirī and Ayatollah Ādharī-Qummī for speaking out publicly and publishing statements questioning the legitimacy of the Islamic republic and the principle of vilāyat-i faqīh (the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent). Police intervened in the attacks and were able to protect Muntaẓirī and Ādharī-Qummī. Following the attacks, a massive march and large demonstrations were held in the city in support of the Islamic regime and its supreme leader, Ayatollah ʿAlī Khameneʿi. A similar demonstration was held in Mashhad.

In the mid-2000s, Qom was the site of anti-Ṣūfī measures and violence. In September 2005, Qom-based Ayatollah Ḥusayn Nūrī-Hamadānī declared Ṣūfīs to be a danger to Islam and called for repressive measures against them. Other senior clerics called for every trace of Sufism to be extirpated from the holy city. On February 13, 2006, followers of the Shīʿī Niʿmatullāhī Ṣūfī order held a peaceful demonstration in Qom to protest a city ordinance calling on them to evacuate their center of worship. Qom's governor, ʿAbbās Muḥtāj, accused the Ṣūfī dervishes of destabilizing the country and having links to foreign governments. The Ṣūfī demonstration was put down violently, and as many as twelve hundred demonstrators were injured or arrested. Most of those arrested were released on the condition that they discontinue their Ṣūfī activities. The next day, security forces demolished the place of worship and adjacent homes.

Qom has also taken on importance for its proximity to the village of Jamkarān, located some six kilometers from the city center and famous for its celebrated mosque of the same name. The Jamkarān mosque is believed to have been built by a believer in the late tenth century CE at the request of the hidden twelfth Imam. It is believed that the Imam himself walked in the courtyard of the mosque. The mosque features a well into which visitors are encouraged to drop prayer requests, many believing that the hidden Imam reads each request. The date of the mosque's initial construction is not known, although physical evidence at the site establishes that a certain Āghā ʿAlī Akbar Jamkarānī repaired the mosque in 1158/1745. This suggests that the mosque did exist prior to this date and was perhaps seriously damaged during the Afghān invasion or as part of the anti-Shīʿī measures of Nādir Shah that followed. The Jamkarān mosque has become a major place of pilgrimage for Iranian Shīʿīs and has grown in popularity since the election of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.

See also IRAN and SHRINE.

Bibliography

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