Book One – Ep.1: The Fatwah

The Lion and the Sun Podcast - The Fatwah

How a religious ban on tobacco jump-started the fight for Persia’s democracy. The story of the Qajar dynasty, their attempt at auctioning Persia’s resources and how Iranians came together to fight foreign influence and protect their right to smoke.

Episode Summary:

Nasir al-Din Shah and the Qajar dynasty ruled over Persia in the late 19th century. They were known for their lavish lifestyles and giving concessions to foreign powers like Britain and Russia.

Nasir al-Din Shah sold Iran’s entire tobacco industry to Major G.F. Talbot and the Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia in 1890. After this deal, the British had monopoly control over Iran’s lucrative tobacco trade.

In the aftermath of this deal, protests against the tobacco concession led by Persian merchants and clerics started. Persians were concerned about foreign control over the economy and the influx of Christian foreigners.

After seeing the anger, Mirza Hassan Shirazi, a powerful Shia marja, issued a fatwa banning tobacco use. This turned public opinion against the deal.

The boycott of tobacco in Iran after the fatwa was issued was successful as everyone stopped smoking immediately. Within a day, tobacco consumption ceased across the country. Even the Shah’s wives in the royal harem refused to smoke.

After 55 days of tobacco protests and boycotts that crippled the tobacco industry, Nasir al-Din Shah agreed to rescind the concession in 1892. However, this was seen as a major failure and sunk Persia further into debt.

Though limited in impact, the tobacco movement was seen as an important early victory against the monarchy and foreign domination. It set the stage for later constitutional and pro-democracy efforts in Iran.


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  • Never Ending – Alena Smirnova

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