Women, Islam and Modernity in Akhundzade's Plays and Unpublished Writings

Author: Mehrdad Kia
Source: Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 1-33

Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade (1812-78) was one of the first intellectual champions of women's rights in Transcaucasia and Iran. He was also one of the founders of modern drama in the Islamic world.1 Akhundzade used his plays as a vehicle to question traditional beliefs and customs and to challenge the power of entrenched elites. Rather than seeking to create psychological studies of characters or sophisticated plots, he conveyed his message with one-dimensional characters and fast-moving satires. His work advocated the cause of modernization and freedom of women in the Islamic world.
Akhundzade's plays were primarily protests against traditional Muslim values, customs and beliefs as practised in Transcaucasia and Iran. His comedies ridiculed corrupt and oppressive rulers and government officials, pilloried ignorant and opportunistic clergymen and mystics, and mocked uneducated and simple-minded people. He also criticized traditional beliefs in miracles and evil spirits as contrary to reason. Indeed, the underlying philosophical core of Akhundzade's comedies revolved around the conflict between reason on the one hand and traditional superstitions and practices on the other.
Akhundzade's plays denounced the injustices of political despotism and attacked the cultural and spiritual poverty of a society dominated by traditional religious beliefs and customs. As an intellectual who admired and emulated the Enlightenment thinkers, Akhundzade was hostile to religions and religious dogmas, suspicious of tradition, and opposed to all forms of authority which legitimized themselves on the basis of custom and faith. He followed the Enlightenment thinkers in attacking convention, custom and tradition. Through his plays, Akhundzade had occasion to criticize every facet of traditional Muslim life in Iran and Transcaucasia, including corruption, superstition, exploitation and ignorance.
A significant part of Akhundzade's critique attacked the inequality and the oppression of women in Iran and Transcaucasia. Indeed, Akhundzade's plays made him the first Muslim intellectual openly to criticize Islam as an oppressive religion which perpetuated inequality between men and women. In attacking traditional Islamic views on women, Akhundzade offered a new concept of love and marriage. He rejected the traditional Islamic notion of love as woman's unqualified obedience and subservience to her husband and advocated marriage based on love and respect for individual freedom. Instead of creating obligations that resulted in the subjection of a woman to her husband, he argued, love should serve the emotional and personal needs of both partners. Indeed, love was no longer some supernatural emanation surrounded by rituals, sanctions and responsibilities originating independently of the individual; it was a natural passion to be governed solely by one's free determination of one's needs and desires.

Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade was born in 1812 in the town of Nukha in Transcaucasia.His father, Mirza Muhammad Taqi, was a merchant from the district of Khamana in the province of Azerbaijan.His mother, Na'ana Khanom, was the niece of Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar, a Shiite clergyman from the Moqaddam tribe of Maragha. Akhundzade's parents separated when he was six years old, because Akhundzade's mother could not get along with Mirza Muhammad Taqi's first wife. Many years later, Mirza Fath Ali attacked polygyny as an evil and corrupting practice that not only oppressed women but also caused eternal animosity and hatred between the wives and their children.4
After his parents' separation, Mirza Fath Ali and his mother settled with Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar, who began to teach the young Mirza Fath Ali how to read and write. As a Shiite clergyman, who was preparing the young boy for a religious career, Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar taught Mirza Fath Ali how to recite the Quran. He then proceeded to familiarize him with a variety of works in Arabic and Persian. Eventually, Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar adopted Mirza Fath Ali as his own son, after which the boy became known as Akhund Hajj Ali Asgharoglu, or Akhundzade for short.5
Despite the emotional and intellectual bonds with his great uncle, however, Mirza Fath Ali was not destined to become a Shiite theologian. In 1832, Akhundzade was studying Islamic law and jurisprudence in the town of Ganja in preparation for joining the Shiite religious hierarchy. There, Mirza Fath Ali met Mirza Shafi, the Azerbaijani mystic, poet and calligrapher, who had been accused of holding mystical and atheistic beliefs. The meetings with Mirza Shafi had a profound impact on Mirza Fath Ali's intellectual development and changed his career plans.6 Under the influence of Mirza Shafi, Akhundzade lost confidence in the utility of Islamic values and practices. He denounced the Shiite clergy as deceitful opportunists who used religion as a means of enhancing their power and prestige among the masses.
Mirza Shafi's ideas decidedly influenced Akhundzade's intellectual development and helped bring about his conscious break with Islam and the Shiite clergy. Indeed, Mirza Shafi opened a new world and a new intellectual life to Akhundzade. Under the influence of Mirza Shafi, Akhundzade revolted against traditions keenly revered by the members of his own family and abandoned his plan to join the Shiite religious hierarchy. Instead, in 1834, he went to Tiflis, the administrative capital and the intellectual heart of the Caucasus region.7 In Tiflis, Mirza Fath Ali found work as an assistant to the chief translator of Oriental languages at the office of the Russian viceroy of Transcaucasia. In 1847, Akhundzade's position was converted to a military rank. By the time he died in 1878, he held the rank of colonel in the Russian army, although he never fought in any military campaigns. With the exception of two trips, the first to Iran in 1848 and the second to the Ottoman empire in 1863, Akhundzade lived and worked in Tiflis from 1834, when he first arrived, until 1878, when he died at the age of 66.8 In 1841, after the death of his mother's uncle, Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar, he married Tuba Khanom, his great uncle's daughter. From this marriage he had three children, two daughters and one son.9
In Tiflis, Akhundzade found himself surrounded by an intellectual environment altogether different from that of Nukha and Ganja. Before his arrival in Tiflis, Akhundzade's social and philosophical outlook had been shaped by two distinct and contradictory intellectual currents: the traditional Islamic education he had received from his mother's uncle, Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar; and the ideas of Mirza Shafi who had introduced him to mysticism and undermined his belief in Islam and the Shiite clergy.10 Starting in 1834, when he arrived in Tiflis, Akhundzade began a third stage of his intellectual development; there he encountered Russian modernization projects as well as European philosophy, political thought, literature and drama. During his years of residence in Tiflis, the city underwent a major phase of modernization that left a profound impact on Akhundzade. In the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Tiflis, it was impossible to ignore the process of modernization which the Russian government had initiated and not to react to it in some way. Akhundzade witnessed first hand the emergence of Russia as a European power and the spread of modern ideas such as nationalism, liberalism and socialism among Muslim, Russian, Georgian and Armenian intellectuals. He saw the rise of a modern and powerful Russia capable of defeating Iran and the Ottoman empire as a challenge to which he and other Muslim intellectuals had to respond by modernizing their own societies.
Working at the Russian chancellery in Tiflis, Akhundzade became acquainted with a significant number of Muslim, Russian, Armenian and Georgian intellectuals who shared his hatred for religion and religious hierarchies as well as his fascination and admiration for west European ideas. These intellectuals included many liberal-minded Russian, and Armenian romantics and nationalists; and they greatly influenced Akhundzade's philosophical, political and artistic development.11 Under the influence of these diverse intellectuals and his reading of modern European thinkers12 Akhundzade, who had already lost his belief in Islam, became philosophically a convinced materialist and politically a devout nationalist as well as a committed constitutionalist. In his plays, Akhundzade concealed his Persian nationalism and his belief in a constitutional form of government. Such sentiments could have resulted into the loss of his job and imprisonment by Russian authorities. Nevertheless, his intense love for Iran and its pre-Islamic history as well as his deep hatred for Arabs and Islam can be found in 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla' which Akhundzade could not publish during his life. Even today, 120 years after the death of its author, 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla' has not been published in Iran.13
In Tiflis, Akhundzade also watched the plays staged at the city's Russian and Georgian theatres. Under the influence of these theatrical productions, Akhundzade turned to writing plays. The works of Shakespeare, Gogol, Lermontov, Pushkin and Ostrovsky had a major impact on Akhundzade.14 He also saw comedies written by such prominent Russian and Georgian writers such as Griboyedov15 and Eristavias well as the works by European playwrights, such as Moliere.16 With the encouragement of Prince Vorontsov, the Russian viceroy of Transcaucasia, and Vladimir Sollugub, the first director of the Tiflis Theater, Akhundzade began in1850 to write his own comedies in Azerbaijani Turkish. By 1857, he had completed six comedies and one short story.17
All Akhundzade's plays were sparkling, bubbling over with the spirit of comedy. Seriousness of purpose was, however, the keynote of his writings even in the most lighthearted of his comedies. Akhundzade agreed with Moliere and nineteenth century Russian playwrights that the most effective means of correcting faults and vices in society was satire: 'satire on the stage was directed against those aspects of the society, of which the satirist-playwright disapproved. He set himself up as the judge, and would therefore propose certain standards of thinking and conduct while condemning others.18 Akhundzade saw the stage as a kind of pulpit, and designed his plays in such a way that they would lead to castigation of vices and foibles.
For Akhundzade, social and cultural utility constituted the supreme criterion through which an artistic work could be evaluated. Thus, as long as a play attacked traditional beliefs and customs effectively, it could be viewed as a positive contribution to the progress and the intellectual advancement of the society. Aesthetic qualities, internal structure, the development of characters and their psychological profiles were of little value compared to the social impact a play could have on society. As a consequence, Akhundzade's characters generally lacked human complexity, depth and nuance. They frequently appeared as one dimensional caricatures, who either incarnated some abstract virtue or personified some abstract vice. Often they were merely simple-minded victims held hostage by their traditional beliefs and superstitions.
Despite these limitations, Akhundzade played a pivotal role in initiating a literary revolution in both Azerbaijani Turkish and Persian by breaking the linguistic domination of the political and religiouse lites. His plays introduced to Turkish and Persian writers both a new literary genre and the possibility of using spoken words of ordinary people in literary works. Akhundzade used a simple language to speak of the experiences and the struggles of ordinary people, and thereby freed art from the control of secretaries, poets, historians and chroniclers who belonged to imperial courts. Thus, literary language was no longer the monopoly of a small and traditionally-minded educated elite who often used bombastic and incomprehensible Arabic and Persian words to impress their readers with their knowledge and to monopolize power.
In his plays, Akhundzade waged an attack on five major areas: traditional customs and beliefs, arbitrary power, irrationalism, superstition and gender relationships. In all five categories, Akhundzade held Islam responsible. Focusing on the situation of Muslim women, he attacked the existing patriarchal family structure and the traditional norms that governed the relationship between men and women in Muslim families. In doing so, he also introduced a new concept of love and marriage. Akhundzade moved toward this position only gradually. As his critique of traditional Muslim society became more sophisticated, his plays focused on the subject of women.
The role of women in Akhundzade's plays underwent a gradual progression from 1851, when he wrote his first play, to 1855, when he completed his last piece. In his first play, The Story of Mulla Ibrahim Khalil the Alchemist (1850), women were non-existent.19 In his second play, The Story of Monsieur Jourdan the Botanist and Dervish Mast Ali Shah also known as the Magician (1851), female characters appeared for the first time, but acted as the representatives of traditional customs and beliefs.
The Story of Monsieur Jourdan the Botanist and Dervish Mast Ali Shah opens with Monsieur Jourdan, a French botanist, collecting rare plants in the province of Qarabagh. During his visit to the province, the French scientist is staying with Hatam Khan, a local notable and a man of power and wealth. Hatam Khan has arranged for one of his daughters, Sharaf Nissa Khanom, to marry his nephew, a young and bright man by the name of Shahbaz Beyk. Having developed a close friendship with Monsieur Jourdan, however, Shahbaz Beyk informs his fiancee that he has decided to delay their wedding for a year, so that he can travel to Paris with the French scientist to study the French language and culture.
Alarmed by Shahbaz Beyk's plans, Hatam Khan and his wife, Shahrbanu Khanom, try to reason with the young man. They insist that he should not postpone the wedding. Shahbaz Beyk's determination to study French, however, remains unshaken; he informs his uncle and aunt that he must travel to Europe with Monsieur Jourdan before he can marry their daughter. Hoping to prevent Shahbaz Beyk's trip, Shahrbanu Khanom decides to seek the help of a famous magician, Dervish Mast Ali Shah, who is reputed to perform miracles. After discussing the problem with the mother and the daughter, the dervish, who is a devious charlatan, offers them two alternatives; he can use his magical power to kill Monsieur Jourdan, or he can order the evil and invisible spirits under his command to burn and destroy the city of Paris. After a short discussion of the two options, the mother of the would-be bride asks the magician to spare Monsieur Jourdan's life and instead destroy the city of Paris.
Moments after the magician has ordered his army of evil spirits to destroy the capital of France, Monsieur Jourdan rushes into the room and announces to Hatam Khan's family that he has to leave for France immediately, for he has just received the news that the city of Paris has been destroyed by a revolution. In conveying the news of the 1848 revolution in France, and in expressing his anger and outrage against the French revolutionaries, Monsieur Jourdan states that the burning and destruction in Paris could only be the work of evil spirits and monsters. The mother and the daughter construe Monsieur Jourdan's use of such adjectives as an actual account of the event. This reinforces their belief in the magical power of the dervish. Thus, the simple-minded and superstitious women become convinced that Dervish Mast Ali Shah and his army of invisible spirits have destroyed the city of Paris.
In Monsieur Jourdan, the two principal female personages, Sharaf Nissa Khanom (the fiancee of Shahbaz Beyk) and her mother, Shahrbanu Khanom, appear as the principal agents, as well as the main victims of traditional superstitious beliefs. These two women who wish to prevent Shahbaz Beyk from travelling to Paris decide to employ the magician and charlatan, Dervish Mast Ali Shah, with the hope that his magical powers can change the course of events. Akhundzade uses the two superstitious women to ridicule the popular belief in miracles among the Muslim people of Transcaucasia. More important, the comedy attempts to demonstrate how family traditions and customs prevent the intellectual development of young and inquisitive Muslims. Shahbaz Beyk is imbued with the desire to study foreign cultures and languages, but he is prevented from pursuing his intellectual interests because he has to conform to the traditional norms and functions by marrying his cousin. The powerlessness of the individual in the face of traditional values and customs is central to Akhundzade's critique and indictment of the Islamic societies. In his presentation of the traditional Muslim family as one of the most important obstacles to the intellectual progress of young and inquisitive Muslims, he portrayed Muslim women as the principal agents and defenders of traditional values.
In Akhundzade's next play, The Story of the Vizier of the Khan of Sarab written in 1851, female characters appeared for the first time as independent-minded individuals who refused to obey the authority of corrupt and tyrannical men.20 The play centres on a romantic love affair between Taymur Aqa, the young nephew of the ruler of Sarab, and Nissa Khanom, the sister-in- law of Mirza Habib (the chief minister and adviser of the khan). Mirza Habib is a tyrannical, corrupt, devious and incompetent man who has a difficult time maintaining a balance between his two wives, Ziba Khanom and Showla Khanom. The two wives are in a constant battle; the older, Ziba Khanom, accuses the younger Showla Khanom of infidelity and dishonesty.
Meanwhile, the vizier plans to arrange a marriage between his master, the khan, and his wife's sister, Nissa Khanom. She has, however, no desire to marry the khan because she is in love with Taymur Aqa, the khan's nephew. Believing mistakenly that Taymur Aqa is involved in a sexual liaison with one of his wives, the vizier accuses him in front of the khan and requests that the ruler punish him. With no investigation, the ignorant and oppressive khan orders the vizier to detain Taymur Aqa. However, Taymur Aqa escapes from the khan's palace before he is captured. After pursuing Taymur Aqa, the khan's men finally come face to face with the brave young man, who refuses to surrender. Before the confrontation becomes violent, the news of the khan's death arrives. The death of the khan allows Taymur Aqa to marry Nissa Khanom, remove the corrupt vizier, Mirza Habib, and emerge as the sole legitimate heir to the throne. The new ruler wishes to embark on a new era of justice, peace and prosperity. As he prepares to assume power, he expresses Akhundzade's political views by declaring that anyone who wishes to reform the affairs of the country according to law should remove uninformed, incompetent and self-interested people from power and turn over the affairs of the state and the nation to competent, impartial and informed men.21
By creating caricatures of the ignorant and arbitrary khan and his vizier, Akhundzade obliquely castigated the evils of unlimited and unsupervised power. What is proposed here is not, however, that the ruler should exchange his power for a constitution with checks and balances.There is no suggestion of democracy - under Tsar Nicholas I the very idea of political power for the masses would have been enough to cause the imprisonment and subsequent deportation of the author to Siberia. Instead, the play advocated the establishment of the rule of law, and the fair and decent treatment of the people.
In The Adventuresof the Vizierof the Khan of Sarab, Akhundzade for the first time portrayed intelligent and competent women characters who were capable of outsmarting men. More important, for the first time Akhundzade expressed his belief in the right of women to choose their husbands based on their personal desire and love, and not in accordance with time-honoured customs and traditions of matrimony. Both Showla Khanom, the younger wife of Mirza Habib, and her sister, Nissa Khanom, are independent-minded women who despise the corrupt vizier. Disgusted by the immorality, corruption and deviousness of the vizier, they do everything in their power to undermine his plans. Both women understand that Mirza Habib has arranged the marriage between the khan and Nissa Khanom because he wishes to strengthen his own position with the ruler. The corrupt vizier has no interest in the happiness and future of Nissa Khanom. Instead, he views his young and attractive sister-in-law as nothing more than a means of enhancing his influence with the khan. Instead of playing the role of a passive woman, however, Nissa Khanom does everything in her power to subvert the plans of the vizier. Indeed, she presses her views with remarkable boldness. For example, before the khan dies, Nissa Khanom demonstrates her love for Taymur by refusing to accept the wedding ring the khan has sent her and telling the vizier that the khan deserves a better wife. Thus both Showla Khanom and her sister, Nissa Khanom, are intelligent and tactful women. Knowing only too well that Mirza Habib is a corruptand devious man, they do everything in their power to stop the corrupt vizier from forcing Nissa Khanom to marry Mirza Habib's master, the khan. In the struggle between Taymur, who personifies a just ruler,and the khan and his vizier, who represent tyranny and corruption, the two women side with the former. More important, Nissa Khanom who loves Taymur, stands on principle and refuses to marrya man she does not love. The heroine has a strong sense of self and believes that she should enjoy freedom in love. Nissa Khanom knows that she cannot be happy without independence and freedom of choice.
Taymur Aqa, who seizes the throne at the end of the play, represents the ideal ruler, a caring, compassionate, and reform-minded leader who intends to use his power not to enrich himself, but to create a new and a more just and humane political order. On the other hand, Nissa Khanom remains outside the political life of her society and symbolizes the struggle for liberation of the heart and the desire to marry based on love. Thus, Akhundzade retains the traditional binary opposition between the political sphere which is the domain of men and the private sphere of marriage and love where women could enjoy freedom of choice.
In his next play, The Story of the Bear that Caught the Robber (1852), Akhundzade continued to focus on gender relationships and the need for freedom in love and marriage. In this play, however, he linked the struggle for freedom in love and marriage to the Russian attempts to modernize Transcaucasia. The underlying theme of the play was an irreconcilable conflict between the 'Occident', as represented by Russia, and the 'Orient' as personified by the native Muslims of Transcaucasia. Akhundzade portrayed Russia as a benevolent modernizing political and judicial system which sought to provide peace, security and justice for all of its subjects. In contrast, he presented Islam as the antithesis of modernity - a monolith of superstitious fools who refused to break away from their traditional beliefs.
Akhundzade had already presented his vision of the conflict between Europe and Islam in The Story of Monsieur Jourdan. Monsieur Jourdan, the French botanist (scientist), personified Europe (Occident), the antithesis of Islam (Orient) represented by the devious and ignorant charlatan, Dervish Mast Ali Shah. Akhundzade thus constructed an opposition between a highly rational, scientific and progressive Europe and an irrational and religious-minded Orient. In his fourth play, TheStory of the Bear that Caught the Robber, Akhundzade went one step further and advocated obedience to, and cooperation with, the Russian authorities as the best way for Muslim women to gain freedom in love and marriage. Akhundzade presented the Russian state as the agent of modernization which would destroy the power of the traditional Muslim family and thereby allow Muslim women to enjoy freedom of choice.
The story, The Bear that Caught the Robber, revolves around the love affair between a young man, Bayram, and a young woman, Parizad, who wish to get married and start a new life. However, they cannot fulfil their dream because of traditional demands that marriages be pre-arranged by parents or guardians, who understand the interests of their children far better than the children themselves. The two lovers are kept apart by cranks - in this case, the girl's uncle and guardian who has arranged for her to marry his own son, Tariverdi, a coward who has no interest in highway robbery (a practice which was equated in the popular culture with bravery and manliness). Parizad, however, loves Bayram, a popular local hero who is intensely resentful of the fact that his beloved's uncle is forcing her to marry her own cousin. Bayram proposes to Parizad that either he kill the coward Tariverdi or they escape to a far away land where they can start a new life. Parizad rejects both suggestions. Bayram then resorts to a devious means to get rid of his rival, Tariverdi. In planning his new strategy, Bayram seeks the support of Zulaykha and Namaz, a married couple who share his hatred for Tariverdi. The three decide on a plan that begins with the couple inviting Tariverdi to their house. With Tariverdi in their house, Zulaykha and Namaz remind the young man that he has a notorious reputation for cowardice among the locals. The couple suggest that in order to improve his image, Tariverdi should embark on a hunting trip in order to demonstrate his bravery and manliness. The young simpleton readily accepts the suggestion, which is designed to expose him to attacks from wild and dangerous animals.
The entire plan, however, falls apart when Tariverdi, accompanied by two partners, comes face to face with an Austrian animal trainer transporting a cargo of exotic animals, including a bear from the United States and a monkey from Brazil. After forcing the Austrian to flee, Tariverdi opens two large cargo boxes. The first contains a monkey, which escapes to the top of a tree; the second holds a bear, which attacks Tariverdi and causes him serious injury. Tariverdi escapes death when Bayram, who is himself hunting, appears accidentally on the scene. Bayram, who does not recognize Tariverdi, fires at the bear, causing the animal to flee. This provides Tariverdi with an opportunity to escape. Before he can leave the scene, however, Bayram is captured by Russian authorities who accuse him of attacking the animal caravan. Subsequent inquiries by the Russian official assigned to the case, however, clear Bayram, and the coward Tariverdi is identified as the one who attacked the caravan.
The most humorous moment in the play takes place during the con- versation between the Russian officer in charge of the case and the members of the rural community where Bayram, Parizad and Tariverdi reside. Despite the best efforts of the Russian officer to explain the incident to the local villagers in the most rational fashion, the locals refuse to believe his account. Because of their ignorance and lack of familiarity with the modern world, they can interpret the events surrounding the Austrian and his circus animals by reference to their traditional superstitious beliefs. They insist that what had appeared to be a monkey and a bear were in fact jinns and evil spirits riding in caravan. This dialogue underscores the conflict between the rational Russian official and the irrational native fools. We feel sorry for the rational-minded Russian official who tries his best to gather information patiently from the natives in order to solve the case, and we feel extremely embarrassed by the behaviour of the Muslim natives who are trapped in their superstitious universe, detached from reality. Finally, the intervention of the Russian authorities resolves the case, and Bayram and Parizad are married. The play ends with an oration by the Russian official who tells the Muslim villagers that the time has come for them to transform themselves and understand that they are not a savage people. He tells the Muslim natives that it is shameful for them to perform evil acts and reminds the locals of all the 'good things' the Russian government has introduced. Finally, he advises the natives to come to know their master and appreciate what he has done for them.22
Among Akhundzade's plays, The Story of the Bear that Caught the Robber is significant for several reasons. First, as in the majority of his plays, the conflict between reason and modernity on the one hand and superstitious beliefs and tradition on the other constitutes the central theme. Like The Story of Monsieur Jourdan, the conflict between reason and tradition is portrayed as a struggle between the rational West, represented by the Russian officer, and the traditional-minded Muslim societies, personified by the natives. More important, the Russian authority acts as a representative of a modernizing force which undermines and subverts the power of patriarchal family structure and promotes emancipation of sentiments and the freedom in marriage. The intervention of the Russian officer delivers Parizad from her oppressive uncle and the arranged marriage to Tariverdi, thereby providing the young woman with the opportunity to enjoy complete freedom in love and marry Bayram, the man she loves. Without the intervention of the Russian officer, Parizad and Bayram would have been separated, and traditional family relations based on social convention and domestic tyranny would have triumphed. The intervention of the Russian officer ensures the defeat of patriarchal tyranny and guarantees the victory of a new concept of marriage based on mutual love. Parizad marries Bayram, and the young love birds achieve sentimental emancipation with the direct support of the Russian officer. Thus, Akhundzade presents Russia as the great educator, modernizer and liberator of Muslim society and Muslim women.
In The Bear that Caught the Robber, the institution of traditional Muslim marriage stood as a symbol for the irrational and oppressive nature of Islamic culture. The play clearly demonstrates that for Akhundzade, the 'woman question' was seldom about women and marriage alone; women were often the ground on which competing views of tradition (i.e. Islam) and modernity (i.e. Europe) could be debated. Akhundzade highlighted particular traditional practices in Muslim societies that were degrading to women as emblematic of what he regarded as the barbaric nature of Islam as a whole. Russian colonial authorities could then urge reform of these practices as justification for a more enlightened and civilized colonial rule. Akhundzade's glorification of Russian rule and his total rejection of traditional customs and practices among Muslims of Transcaucasia proved extremely effective as Russian propaganda. The Russians could emphasize a direct connection between the oppressive nature of Islamic practices and the inability of Muslims to enjoy political independence. The benevolent Russian government could introduce progress and modern civilization to such backward people.23 In The Story of the Bear that Caught the Robber, and his next play, The Adventures of the Miser (1853), Akhundzade portrayed the Muslim natives as culturally static primitives and the 'antithesis' of civilized Europeans. Akhundzade's work reaffirmed the Russians' sense of superiority and reassured the Tsarist state that it had the right to rule in the name of introducing modern civilization, progress and human rights for Muslim women. Given his justification of Russian rule, it is not surprising that the Soviet official organs praised Akhundzade as the model Muslim intellectual as well as one of the intellectual founders of modernism in the Caucasus region.
As Akhundzade presented it in The Story of the Bear that Caught the Robber, the Russian state was not at fault if the Muslims had remained backward. Rather, the responsibility belonged to the Muslim natives themselves for remaining wedded to their traditional mode of thinking. Freedom from traditional superstitious beliefs and the freedom of choice for women were the prerequisites for the modernization and progress of the Muslims of the Caucasus. Such progress did not necessitate the overthrow of Russian rule in the region; on the contrary, the Russian occupation of the region had paved the way for the introduction of modern civilization and freedom in marriage for Muslim women. All Muslim natives had to do was to welcome the arrival of a new era of progress under Russian tutelage and use this opportunity in order to discard their traditional beliefs and practices and grant Muslim women the freedom to choose their husbands in accordance with their feelings.
By 1855 when he wrote his last play, The Attorneys at Law, Akhundzade's female characters had matured and had come to play a central role. They were no longer superstitious creatures who trusted magicians; neither were they faithful lovers enduring pain so that they could marry the male hero.
In The Attorneys at Law, Akhundzade presented his harshest critique of the traditional notions of love and marriage in Muslim societies. More over,the play served as a pungent indictment of corruption in Iran's clergy-dominated law courts. In this play, a spectacular swindle is conceived and partially carried out, only to be defeated in the end by the characters' own errors and the intervention of local government officials who step in and set everything to rights. The death of a prominent Tabrizi merchant, Hajji Ghafur, has generated an intense conflict between his sister, Sakina Khanom, and his concubine, Zaynab. The conflict between the two women centres on the substantial inheritance left behind by the dead merchant. According to the Shiite interpretation, the Islamic law prohibits the sigha or concubine from receiving any portion of her husband's estate unless she has had or is carrying a child by her late husband before his death. The children of the concubine 'are legitimate and have a right to a share of inheritance from their father, but, unlike the ordinary wife, the sigha has no legal claim to maintenance or to anything more than the gift stipulated in the contract, and she does not inherit from her husband'.24 Since Zaynab has no children, the merchant's sister, Sakina, is the rightful heiress of her brother's estate.
However, Sakina's situation is far from being settled and secure. For one thing, she has two suitors, Aqa Hasan, a wealthy and wily merchant whom she rejects, and Aziz Beyk, an official in the local government, whom she loves and accepts as her future husband. By choosing Aziz Beyk, Sakina Khanom becomes involved in an intense conflict with her aunt, Zubayda, who attempts to force her into marrying Aqa Hasan. Sakina tells Zubayda that she does not wish to marry the wealthy merchant, whose face disgusts her. Moreover, Sakina Khanom believes that Aqa Hasan is corrupt, dishonest, and interested only in the inheritance she stands to receive from her late brother.
Since Sakina knows that it would be impossible to change her aunt's mind, she assumes personal responsibility for rejecting Aqa Hasan. During a meeting with the greedy suitor, Sakina informs him in an open and direct fashion that she cannot sleep with him because she does not love him and love cannot be demanded from a person by force or coercion. Sakina's rejection angers the greedy merchant, who threatens the independent-minded woman that her actions will have serious repercussions for her future. Nevertheless, the determined and free-spirited Sakina refuses to budge, insisting that marriage with a man she does not love or trust would be impossible. But rejection of her greedy suitor does not end Sakina's problems. She is also facing the possibility of losing her inheritance because a certain Aqa Karim and two of his associates (both experienced attorneys), Aqa Salman and Aqa Mardan, are co-conspirators in a plot to prevent Sakina from winning in the court of law. They have even planned to rob her of her brother's substantial inheritance. The three believe that since Sakina has rejected Aqa Hasan, her wealthy and powerful suitor, they will face no serious obstacle. One of the attorneys, Aqa Mardan, meets with Zaynab (i.e. the concubine of Hajji Ghafur, the dead merchant) and her brother, Abbas. During the meeting, Aqa Mardan informs Zaynab that, as a concubine, she has no legal right to her late husband's inheritance, but she can defeat Sakina, her sister-in-law if she is willing to partake in a charade by testifying that she has a seven-month-old child from her late husband. If Zaynab is willing to perjure herself, she will receive half of her husband's inheritance; the other half will go to her attorney, Aqa Mardan. However, if she refuses to cooperate with Aqa Mardan, she has no chance of obtaining any portion of her late husband's estate.
Zaynab protests meekly about the dangers of giving false testimony in a court of law, but the attorney produces an infant male child to play the role of her seven-month-old son and reassures her that nothing can go wrong as long as she maintains her composure. Despite her reservations, Zaynab decides to join the charade because she despises her sister-in-law and believes that, as a faithful and devoted companion, she deserves to be the principal recipient of her husband's inheritance.
Having recruited Zaynab as an active participant in their plot, Aqa Mardan moves to the final stage. With the direct aid of the Darugha, the chief of police, he enlists the service of professional impostors who will falsely testify to the existence of an infant child from Hajji Ghafur and Zaynab.25 In addition, Aqa Mardan bribes the four soldiers who were present at the death of Hajji Ghafur to testify to the presence of a child at the home of the late merchant.
Despite the best attempts to present their carefully planned charade, however, the three charlatans suffer a humiliating and embarrassing defeat in court, when the soldiers who were present at Hajji Ghafur's house refuse to lie. The soldiers, who are poor but conscientious and honest, testify that they were present at the house of Hajji Ghafur just before his death, and they heard him name his sister, Sakina, as his sole legitimate heir. The corrupt and devious attorneys are even more shocked when the impostors who were supposed to bear witness to the existence of a child follow the model of the soldiers and inform the judge that they were paid by Aqa Mardan to lie. Eventually, it becomes evident that the Darugha had only pretended to be a co-conspirator and had, in fact, informed the prince governor of the plot. The two men had decided to allow the attorneys to bring their plot to a final conclusion so that they could be caught red-handed in front of the judge.
The Story of the Attorneys at Law can be viewed as Akhundzade's harshest critique of the traditional Muslim attitude toward women. Aqa Mardan, the corrupt and devious attorney who acts as the principal organizer of the plot to rob Sakina, personifies the misogynistic attitude of so many Muslim men. He views women either as objects of financial gain or as the means for biological reproduction. After he invites Zaynab to his home in orderto discuss her husband's inheritance, Aqa Mardan reveals to his friend and co-conspirator Aqa Karim that he intends to marry the young widow after the case is settled, so that he can seize control over the money the widow would inherit.
Akhundzade portrays Aqa Mardan as the personification of evil not only because he is devious, corrupt and dishonest, but also because the attorney holds contemptuous, degrading and insulting views toward women. In encouraging Zaynab to lie at the court of law by stating that she has had a child from her marriage to her husband, Aqa Mardan states that the entire world knows that the function of women is to give birth. The condemnation of Aqa Mardan's evil nature does not derive merely from the fact that he intends to become rich by illegal means, but also because he corrupts a widow, Zaynab, while at the same time trying to rob and victimize Sakina.
In The Story of the Attorneys at Law, Akhundzade's female characters do not appear as simple victims of a traditional corrupt justice system dominated by men. Indeed, in this, his last play, Akhundzade allows the women to act and speak as mature human beings capable of analyzing, interpreting and comprehending the complex world in which they live and the traditional society to which they belong. More important, Sakina transcends the limitations imposed by the tradition-bound society on her rights and protests against customs that turn her into an object dominated by others. In the dialogue between Sakina and her aunt, Zubayda, the traditional-minded aunt tries to force her niece into a marriage with the wealthy and greedy merchant, Aqa Hasan. Zubayda represents the out-dated, irrational and tyrannical customs and beliefs which have been passed down from one generation to the next without being challenged. On the other hand, the young and free spirited Sakina refuses to obey her aunt's authority. Instead, she chooses to marry Aziz Beyk, the man she loves and trusts. In this, she personifies the new age of freedom, enlightenment and rebellion against archaic traditions.
Akhundzade uses the heated argument between the aunt and the niece to challenge the time-honoured tradition of arranged marriages. In a larger sense, he uses the dialogue between aunt Zubayda and Sakina to present the intense and irreconcilable conflict between reason and tradition. Since Sakina's father and older brother have passed away, aunt Zubayda assumes the role of her niece's guardian. Assuming the role of the matriarch of the family and believing firmly that because of her old age she is wiser than her niece, the aunt arranges the marriage of Sakina to Aqa Hasan without consulting the young woman. Aunt Zubayda dislikes Aziz Beyk because he works for the local government. She believes that as a sister of a prominent merchant, Sakina should not bring shame and embarrassment to her family by marrying a government official. Instead, Sakina should marry within her own class by choosing a wealthy and influential merchant as her future husband. For old Zubayda, the personal feelings and desires of her niece, who despises Aqa Hasan, are irrelevant.
Sakina is not, however, willing to accept and obey the decisions made by her aunt. For Sakina, the problem is not simply distaste for Aqa Hasan because of his age or physical appearance. Sakina rejects the idea of marrying the old merchant because she does not love him and because she has realized that the actual reason for Aqa Hasan's interest in her is not love but money. She is well aware that the greedy man is planning to use her as a means of seizing control of the substantial inheritance which she would receive from her brother.
Aunt Zubayda is also well aware that the merchant's interest in her niece is purely financial. However, aunt Zubayda is a prisoner of traditional customs; she cannot free herself from the clutches of archaic beliefs. Having already promised Aqa Hasan that her niece would marry him, she feels that any change would greatly damage her reputation in the community. She holds tenaciously to the traditional belief that she has to preserve her reputation, pride and honour even if doing so results in a miserable and unhappy life for her niece.
Aunt Zubayda is not merely a traditionalist willing to sacrifice her niece's life at the altar of ancient customs. As a woman born and brought up in a traditional Muslim society, she has concluded that it is impossible for a woman to fight for her rights and win in a society dominated by men. She personifies the defeated gender that has been taught not to challenge but rather to accommodate men. Thus aunt Zubayda acts as a pragmatist who argues that, if Sakina does not marry Aqa Hasan, she stands to lose the inheritance from her late brother. Indeed, Zubayda insists that if Sakina rejects Aqa Hasan, then her greedy and influential suitor will join Zaynab in an attempt to prevent her from receiving her brother's inheritance. Thus, the enormous power and influence of Aqa Hasan has intimidated aunt Zubayda who has concluded that the solution is to reach a compromise with the greedy merchant.
Finally, the dialogue between aunt Zubayda and her niece represents the intense conflict between two diametrically different forms of discourse. Aunt Zubayda represents the traditional and 'irrational' discourse of absolute authority and obedience, with its legitimizing foundation of unconditional respect for the older members of the family and their decisions. On the other hand, Sakina expresses the discourse of the Enlightenment, which is inherently suspicious of tradition and resentful of authority based on custom or faith alone, and which values individual choice and personal fulfilment. Aunt Zubayda is insulted not only by Sakina's refusal to follow the established tradition of obeying the decisions made by an older member of the family, but also by her direct, honest and confrontational attitude. Aunt Zubayda personifies absolute power and therefore expects unconditional obedience from her niece. She will tolerate no challenge to her authority. Zubayda uses the discourse of tradition and respect for authority in order to shame her niece into obedience and to make her feel guilty for challenging her aunt's decisions. Sakina, the personification of the struggle for reason and freedom, resists her tyrannical aunt. When guilt and shame fail to sway Sakina, the frustrated aunt has no other weapon and leaves the stage in disgust.
Sakina is Akhundzade's first female heroine who in sharp contrast to his previous personages, did not play the role of a traditional heroine or 'the woman whom the male hero pursues, loves, or marries, and whose consciousness is in no way central' to the play.26 In The Attorneys at Law, Akhundzade's female personages had finally matured and assumed a greater role. They were no longer simple-minded creatures who believed in magicians and professional charlatans; neither were they simply loyal lovers, who suffered so that they could eventually marry the male hero. One female character in Attorneys at Law, aunt Zubayda, personified traditional beliefs and customs, and another important female personage, Zaynab (the concubine and the widow of the dead merchant, Hajji Ghafur), appeared as the victim of a conspiracy organized by the three corrupt and dishonest men. However, both Zubayda and Zaynab had their own independent agendas and at times were vocal in expressing their feelings. The striking departure was Sakina, an independent-minded woman, who refused to obey her aunt and marry a man she despised. Instead, she insisted on marrying the man she loved. In doing so, Sakina rejected the traditional notion of love as woman's unqualified obedience and subservience to her husband, and demonstrated her belief in marriage as an institution based on love and on respect for individual freedom.
In the years following the completion of Attorneys at Law, Akhundzade continued to focus on the situation of women in Muslim societies. Both in his private letters and in unpublished works, the Azerbaijani intellectual identified Islam as the principal cause of the oppression of women in Muslim societies. Akhundzade maintained that the oppressive nature of Islam was best exemplified in the precepts of Islamic law which dealt with the relationship between men and women. In contrast to Islamic law which condemned sexual intercourse between an unmarried couple as adultery,27 Akhundzade maintained that there was nothing wrong with a relationship of free love between two rational individuals; neither the Sharia nor the Shiite clergy had the right to prescribe rules and commandments for thinking and mature adults.28 Akhundzade further maintained that Islamic law imposed veils on women and supported the institution of the harem.29
Despite his hatred for Islam and the Shiite ulema, however, Akhundzade avoided a direct and frontal attack on Islam and the Muslim clergy in his plays. He was well aware that he had to protect himself against accusations of heresy. Indeed, a frontal assault on Islam and the Shiite clergy could backfire. The clergy could use his open attacks on Islam as a means of pronouncing him a heretic and condemning him to death. Moreover, any attack on the clergy could be equated by the Muslim public with an attack on Islam, and being identified as an opponent of Islam could seriously undermine the ability of Akhundzade to leave his imprint on the course of cultural transformation in Transcaucasia and Iran. Thus, in order to protect himself against such attacks and at the same time ensure the publication of his plays, Akhundzade adopted a strategy of attacking only the superstitious beliefs and traditional practices prevalent in Transcaucasia and Iran. He refused to criticize the fundamental teachings or the basic practices of the Islamic faith in his plays. Akhundzade's cautious approach has led some to argue that he intended not to destroy Islam but to free it from the shackles of superstitious beliefs and practices while at the same time retaining what was rational, valuable and compatible with the modern civilization of Europe.30
This interpretation, which presents Akhundzade as a Muslim reformer similar to Muhammad Abduh, can only be valid if one ignores the underlying philosophical core of his writings. Both in his private correspondence and in his most important work, 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla', Akhundzade attacked Islam as an oppressive religion particularly in its treatment of women. These writings clearly demonstrate that Akhundzade vehemently rejected the argument that Islam could be compatible with modernity. Instead he intended to persuade his Muslim readers, who were anxious to participate in modern civilization, that they had first to forsake Islam and condemn the Shiite clergy and the ignorant and despotic Muslim rulers. Ultimately, Akhundzade argued that those Muslim intellectuals who claimed that Islam was compatible with modernity, equality and justice were trapped in a contradiction.31 On the one hand they claimed to stand for modernity and progress and, on the other hand, they ignored the Quranic rules and laws which dealt with the role and status of women. This position distinguished the Azerbaijani intellectual from the majority of Muslim reformers of the nineteenth century. He not only attacked irrational and oppressive customs and practices in Muslim societies, particularly with regard to women, but insisted that these practices had been promoted and condoned by Islam and the Shiite clergy. If Muslims were to transform their societies and if Muslim women wished to be treated as human beings who could enjoy equal rights with men, they had no alternative but to reject Islamic beliefs, practices and institutions in their totality.
Why did Akhundzade believe that Islam was an oppressive religion toward women and what led him to conclude that Muslim women were one of the most oppressed of all social groups in Islamic societies? In 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla', Akhundzade tried to answer these questions by analyzing the life and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad in the context of Quranic revelations. According to Akhundzade, in order to understand Islamic beliefs and attitudes toward women, one had to consider the personal, emotional and sexual aspects of the prophet's life that had a major impact on the Muslim perception of women and their role in society. In other words, Akhundzade maintained that there was a very close interconnection between the personal and sexual life of the prophet and the Quranic revelations which dealt with the position of women in the Muslim community.
Akhundzade divided the life of the prophet Muhammad into two distinct periods: the Mecca period from 610 AD when he received his first revelation to 622 AD when he fled Mecca for Medina in the Hijra, or the Flight, and the period after 622 when he consolidated his power in Medina. According to Akhundzade, during the Mecca period, the position of the prophet Muhammad vis-a-vis his opponents was still weak and his followers were small in number. Thus, when his opponents criticized him, he simply cursed them.32 Once he arrived in Medina in 622, however, the prophet's attitude began to change. Akhundzade maintained that as the number of his followers increased, the prophet became increasingly powerful, self confident and arrogant. He abandoned justice and fairness and adopted a systematic policy of violence and oppression, attacking the Jewish clans of Medina, enslaving their women and children, and beheading their men.33 The Jewish clans of Medina were not the only victims of Muhammad's policies. According to Akhundzade, the rules and laws with regard to the position of women in the Muslim community were also introduced during this period. The prophet who wished to control his many wives and at the same time protect himself against the competition of younger Arab men introduced new rules which ensured his absolute and unlimited power. His jealousy and possessiveness became increasingly pronounced as he aged and lost his sexual appetite. Akhundzade maintained that as long as the prophet was young and sexually active, he had an unrestrained sexual craving for women and did everything in his power to marry as many women as he could. For example, according to Akhundzade, the prophet Muhammad was once found by one of his wives, Hafsah with a Coptic slave from whom he had promised her to separate.34 To free himself from his promise to Hafsah, the prophet stated that he had received the following revelation from Allah; 'Prophet why do you prohibit that which God has made lawful to you, in seeking to please your wives? ... God has given you absolution from such oaths.'35 And yet on another occasion, the prophet who had fallen in love with Zaynab, the wife of his adopted son, married the young woman and once again justified it by another 'divine' revelation.36 According to Akhundzade, this act was 'shameful' because instead of being honest and express his love for Zayd's wife, Muhammad claimed that he was marrying the young woman not because of his sexual desires but to teach the Muslims that 'it was legitimate for true believers to wed the wives of their adopted sons if they divorced them'.37
Akhundzade contended that as the prophet began to age, it became clear that his wives were not satisfied with the sexual attention they were receiving. They complained while at the same time looking for younger sexual partners to replace the prophet after his death.38 The prophet's favourite wife, Aisha, went one step further and according to some, slept with Safwan, a young and handsome man who claimed that he had found Aisha lost in the desert, looking for her necklace.39 After hearing of the incident, Muhammad was so angry with Aisha that he sent her back to her father's house. But the prophet was in love with the young woman and he could not bear to live without her. So, once again, angel Gabriel intervened and asked the prophet to ignore all the lies and the innuendo uttered against Aisha.40 Akhundzade concluded that the scandal involving Aisha and Safwan, as well as the prospect of the marriage of his wives to his friends and followers after his death, forced Muhammad, who was losing his sexual potency, to offer a number of divine revelations with the sole objective of maintaining his control over his unruly wives.41 These revelations not only imposed veiling on Muhammad's wives and other Muslim women but they also prohibited the prophet's young wives from marrying anyone after the death of their husband.42 Thus, in one revelation, God ordered 'believing women to turn their eyes away from temptation and to preserve their chastity; to cover their adornments ... to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to reveal their finery.'43And in another revelation, Allah ordered the male members of the Muslim community to speak to the wives of the prophet only 'from behind a curtain', and not to marry the prophet's wives after his death for 'this would be a grave offence in the sight of God'.44 For Akhundzade, these Quranic revelations revealed the depth of the tragedy that had befallen Muslim women since. Millions of women were condemned eternally to wear the veil and to lose their basic rights and freedoms because of the insecurities of a religious leader who did not wish to let go of his control over his wives even after his death.45 Akhundzade stated that he certainly did not blame the prophet Muhammad for loving women. What disgusted the Azerbaijani writer, however, was what he regarded as the prophet's intense 'lust' for women and his use of 'divine revelations' to 'steal' married women from their husbands.46 For Akhundzade, the impact of the Quranic revelations on Muslim women and the relationship between the two genders was, therefore, extremely destructive. According to Akhundzade, the Islamic laws and customs that imposed veiling, and prevented Muslim women from attending school or learning the various arts and sciences, violated their basic human rights.47 Akhundzade maintained that as a result of being veiled and secluded in closed and isolated quarters filled with dirty air, Muslim women were also susceptible to a wide variety of illnesses.48 Finally, instead of undermining immorality and violence, veiling had perpetuated corruption among Muslim men, turning them into violent savages who were allowed to mistreat their wives and 'commit adultery' in order to satisfy their sexual needs.49
Akhundzade maintained that the problem was not confined to the Quranic revelations which imposed veiling on women. There were also Quranic revelations that legitimized polygyny.50 According to Akhundzade, these laws were unjust because they ignored the basic human rights of the first wife.51 How could a religion claim to advocate justice when a man was allowed to bring home a second wife without taking into consideration the basic human rights of his first wife? According to Akhundzade, when a man married a second wife, he automatically oppressed his first wife while at the same time causing a serious conflict between his children (i.e. the half brothers and sisters).52 Further, he contended that polygyny was not merely unjust to the first wife. It was also extremely oppressive to the so-called concubines who were treated as chattels. According to the Shiite interpretation, a Muslim man had the right to marry four legal wives and an unlimited number of concubines.53 A religion which claimed to stand for justice, Akhundzade believed, could not justify oppressing women by turning them into concubines and treating them as slaves. How, asked Akhundzade, could the God of Islam ask his people to be just when he himself treated concubines unjustly?54 Were not concubines human beings; Akhundzade asked, and as human beings did they not have the right to be free? Among humanity, owning slaves and treating fellow humans as slaves was contrary to the spirit of justice and equality.55
For Akhundzade, the principal alternative to the laws of the Quran was to emulate those European thinkers who believed in granting equal rights to women, including the right to participate in the political affairs of the country and even occupy the throne, 'a practice which was allowed in [ancient] Iran' before the Arab invasion.56 But Europe was not the only model whose achievements were to be studied and replicated. Akhundzade maintained that there were also enlightened Muslim leaders in the past who had abolished the laws of the Quran. Muslims could use these leaders as models of enlightenment and progress. Among these, Akhundzade identified the Ismaili leader Hasan Ala Zikrihi s-Salam (1126-66) as an outstanding model. According to Akhundzade, the Ismaili leader became so disgusted with Islamic rules and laws that he ordered his followers to abandon them.57 Proclaiming the arrival of Qiyama (Persian,Qiyamat), or the long awaited 'Day of Resurrection', Hasan Ala Zikrihi s-Salam rejected the existence of heaven and hell, abrogated the Sharia, relieved his followers from all religious duties and obligations and abolished polygyny and the veiling of women.58 Akhundzade praised Hasan Ala Zikrihi s-Salam as a leader who introduced reformation in the Islamic world. Moreover, according to Akhundzade, he was the first Muslim ruler to unveil his queen and bring her out of the harem.59 Following their leader, the dignitaries and the ordinary people of Alamut (the stronghold of the Ismailis) allowed their wives to leave their harems unveiled.60 Akhundzade stated that many accused Hasan Zikrihi s-Salam of heresy but no one, including his enemies, could accuse him of lusting for women, oppression or tyranny.61 Through his actions, the Ismaili leader demonstrated that enlightenment brought purity of soul and virtuosity while ignorance, closed-mindedness and slavish adherence to religious beliefs caused hypocrisy, debauchery, corruption, greed and oppression.62
Akhundzade also praised Sayyed Ali Muhammad Bab (1812-50), the founder of the Babi movement as a leader who had initiated progressive reforms concerning the position of women.63 In particular, Akhundzade praised the Babi idea of granting women equal rights, including the right to receive an education and to remain unveiled until they were married.64 While the Azerbaijani writer denounced the religious essence of Bab's teachings, he was greatly impressed by the prominent Babi heroine, Tahireh Qurratul-Ain, who had revolted against the Shiite clergy and traditional Islamic norms by removing her veil.65 He called Qurrat ul-Ain 'the marvel of her time', a courageous and honourable woman who was murdered by the order of Naser ud-Din shah because of her leading role in the Babi movement.66
Akhundzade was clearly one of the first intellectual champions of women's rights in the Islamic world. As a believer in modernization, Akhundzade viewed human reason, science and a modern secular education as the means of creating a free and progressive society of independent-minded human beings. He believed in the progress of his society and in the right of each and every man to live life in happiness and freedom. He viewed freedom for women as the logical extension of this right to the other half of humankind. Moreover, he believed that Islam was incompatible with women's rights. According to Akhundzade, both Islamic laws and social norms sanctified women's subordination with irrational, inhuman and stringent rules (infringements of which were severely punished). In countering such rules, Akhundzade advocated 'freedom in love' as a means of attacking traditional Islamic rules and beliefs. Indeed, for Akhundzade, the only solution for women and men alike was a total and complete break with the Islamic past, and as the first step, a deliberate infringement of Islamic norms.
Akhundzade was influenced by the writings of the Russian intelligentsia on the question of women. The decades of 1830s and 1840s marked the birth of the modern socialist and feminist movements in western Europe. A significant group of west European writers and intellectuals called for the emancipation of women.67 The writings of these west European writers, and particularly the works of the French writer, George Sand(Aurore Dupin Dudevant), had a profound impact on the first generation of the Russian intelligentsia, which included among its ranks Alexander Herzen, Vissarion Belinsky, Mikhail Bakunin, Nikolai Chernyshevski and Ivan Turgenev. So 'pervasively did Sand's works (and personal life) influence' these (and many other) Russian writers that a special term, 'Zhorzhandism', was 'coined to describe the literary phenomenon'.68 Under the influence of George Sand, these Russian writers insisted on freedom in love at the same time celebrating the joys of a lasting union.69 In her novels, Sand objected to marital relations based on traditional norms, 'social convention and domestic tyranny rather than on mutual respect and love'.70 For Sand, marriage constituted 'a thoroughly dehumanizing experience for women unless they' were 'completely free to choose their spouses and to terminate their marriages at will'.71 Moreover, Sand believed that limiting women to marriage and motherhood denied their creative potential and reduced them to the status of a servant.72
There is no doubt that Akhundzade could not realistically accept and adopt Sand's more 'radical' ideas such as the desire for androgyny. Like Sand and her Russian followers, however, Akhundzade did maintain that women should enjoy the right to be completely free in choosing whom to love and marry. Marriage must provide a rational, free and equal partnership; a woman should not be forced to marry a man whom she did not love. Moreover, Akhundzade believed that women were rational beings whose functions in life were not limited to taking care of their husbands and children. Akhundzade followed Sand and her Russian followers in denouncing the traditional roles as prescribed by matrimony.73 But unlike Sand, whose prescription for improvement lay in the liberation of the heart, Akhundzade extended the critique of gender relationship and marriage to the whole of Muslim society and he specifically blamed Islam for the norms which ruled the relationship between Muslim men and women. Moreover, Akhundzade differed from George Sand and her Russian followers in that at least on two occasions, he linked the liberation of Muslim women from Islamic rules and customs to the 'civilizing mission' of the Russian state in the Caucasus. Islam was incapable of reforming Muslim societies and treating Muslim women as rational human beings. Europe, as represented by Russia, had to intervene in the name of civilization and introduce badly needed reforms including fundamental changes in family and marital norms.
Why did Akhundzade glorify Russian rule? Was his support for the Tsarist state based on genuine convictions or expedient considerations? The most simple explanation is that Akhundzade was trying to hold on to his governmental post. Official status provided him with a secure income. In addition, his support of Russian rule protected him and his family from persecution by a political system that executed, imprisoned and exiled its critics. Akhundzade wrote his plays during the reign of Nicholas I (1825-56), an era of extreme tyranny and repression. Under Nicholas I, the Tsarist police spread its web all over the Russian empire like a gigantic spider. A significant number of Russian, Georgian and Armenian writers and intellectuals in the Caucasus, many of whom Akhundzade personally knew, had served long jail sentences because of their writings and/ or political activities.74 Akhundzade understood full well that Tsarist Russia was a despotic state which had occupied the Transcaucasia by force. However, because of personal and political reasons, he expediently emphasized the 'positive' aspects of Russian rule, such as the introduction of a modern system of justice and education. Given the level of political repression and police censorship, however, it was impossible for Akhundzade to criticize the Tsarist state and its repressive policies in the Caucasus without paying a heavy personal price. This must account, at least in part, for Akhundzade's favourable portrayal of Russian rule. It is also important to note that at least two historians, M. Rafili and F. Adamiyyat, have maintained that the oration delivered by the Russian officer at the end of The Story of the Bear that Caughta Robber, was not in the original draft and was added later by Vladimir Sollogub, the first director of the Tiflis theatre. It is very possible that without the new ending, Akhundzade's play would have never been approved by the Russian censor.75
This argument fails, however, to take into account that Akhundzade seemed actually to believe in the modernizing role of Russian rule. Indeed, Akhundzade stated in several of his personal letters that Russian rule was progressive because it introduced a new alphabet and a modern educational system. In one letter to the Iranian reformer and diplomat Mirza Malkam Khan, dated June 1871, Akhundzade wrote that the people of Daghestan and Chechnya had accepted Islam one thousand two hundred and eighty years before, but they had remained uneducated savages until the Russian government occupied their land.76 Within a short period of time, theRussian state had embarked on a policy of educating 'its' people. Akhundzade wrote that the Tsarist regime had fulfilled its obligations by 'educating its subjects and taking them away from darkness' into an era of enlightenment.77 In this letter, Akhundzade identified Islam as the domain of ignorance and darkness. In contrast, he presented Russia as the power which was introducing enlightenment.78 He expressed therefore a genuine admiration for the Russian educational system and he presented the Russian state as a progressive force which was introducing modernity and badly needed reforms in the Caucasus region.
Akhundzade was a conflicted intellectual. He stood between two diametrically opposed worlds, namely the world of his Russian employers and the world of the native Muslims from which he had come. But he fitted into neither; the old and archaic Muslim world was disintegrating in front of his eyes because it was backward, archaic, irrational and, therefore, unable to defend itself against European encroachment. But the super-imposed Russian order was also too rigid, hierarchical, anti-democratic and oppressive. Thus Akhundzade must have entertained mixed feelings about Russian rule. On the one hand, he despised tyranny and despotism. He was also a Persian nationalist who intended his plays to awaken intelligent patriotism as well as the political and social consciousness of his readers. On the other hand, he saw Russian rule as an opportunity to attack traditional Islamic beliefs and to introduce modern ideas through a new educational system. Despite his strong philosophical opposition to Tsarist despotism, Akhundzade had convinced himself that the Russian administrators were the only authorities willing to allow him to attack Islam while at the same time protecting him from persecution by the Shiite clergy and the religious minded Muslims who found his plays offensive and insulting.79 In his hierarchy of oppressive and backward ideas and institutions, Islam, the Shiite clergy and the corrupt and decadent Qajar monarchy were far more reactionary than the Russian tsar who was at least introducing European reforms. Preferring the Tsarist regime to the Qajar monarchy and the Shiite ulema did not, however, mean acceptance of the Tsarist regime's oppression. At the heart of Akhundzade's ethos was a spirit of rebellion against social injustice and political oppression, for which the Azerbaijani intellectual held all absolutist political structures (whether Tsarist or Qajar) and all religious hierarchies (whether Christian or Muslim) responsible. Akhundzade's advocacy of women's rights was part of that larger struggle against tradition, religion and political oppression.

1. During my work on this article, I was fortunate in receiving help and guidance from several scholars.Thanks are due first to Professor Linda Frey, Professor Michael Mayer, Professor Sadeq Kia and Professor Ardeshir Kia. I would like to express my gratitude to these scholars for reading the manuscript and offering me mountains of incisive suggestions. My chief debt is to one lady whose ideas, suggestions and comments were invaluable in writing and completing this article.
2. For Akhundzade's life and writings see M.F. Akhundov (Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade), Asarlari, 3 Vols. (Baku, 1961); M.F Akhundov, Komediyalar (Baku, 1962); Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade, Alifba-yi Jadid va Maktubat, Hamid Mohammadzade and Hamid Arasli (eds.) (Baku, 1963); J. Ja'afarov, ME Akhundov(Baku, 1962); Fraydun Adamiyyat, Andishiha-yi Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade(Tehran, 1970); Hamid Algar, Akhundzade, Encyclopedia Iranica.
3. Akhundzade's father, Mirza Muhammad Taqi was the son of Hajji Ahmad, who had emigrated from the province of Gilan to Azerbaijan at an unknown date. Before becoming a merchant, Mirza Muhammad Taqi worked for Abbas Mirza, the Crown Prince of Fath Ali Shah and the governor of Azerbaijan, as the zabit and the katkhuda of Khamana. See Akhundzade, Alifba-yi Jadid va Maktubat, p.349, pp.356-7.
4. Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade, 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla', published under the title, Maktubat, ed. Subhdam (pseud.), 1986, p.179. Here, I have used two different copies of 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla'. The first is a copy of the manuscript at the National Library of Iran and the second is a copy published by Mard-i Emruz Publications and edited by 'Subhdam'. The date for the publication of Subhdam's edition as well as the actual name of the editor have not been printed. The copy edited by Subhdam is longer and more detailed and I have therefore used it as the primary source while at the same time comparing it with the copy from the National Library of Iran. However, instead of referring to it as Maktubat, as Subhdam does, I have referred to it as 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla', so that it would not be mistaken with Akhundzade's Alifba-yi Jadid va Maktubat.
5. A very important chapter in Akhundzade's life took place in 1825. In 1825 Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar moved to the town of Ganja, taking Mirza Fath Ali and his mother with him. A year later, the second Russo-Iranian war began and the Russian forces occupied the town of Ganja. During the war Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar and his family suffered a great deal, losing their property and even their personal belongings. With the end of the war and the defeat of the Iranian forces, Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar and family moved back to their home town, Nukha, which had been annexed by Tsarist Russia. In Nukha, Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar continued with education of Mirza Fath Ali, by teaching the young lad Arabic and Persian literature. See Akhundzade, Alifba-yi Jadid va Maktubat, pp.349-50.
6. Many years later, Akhundzade recounted what Mirza Shafi had told him: 'One day, this honourable man [Mirza Shafi], asked me; "Mirza Fath Ali what is your intention in studying [Islamic] sciences? "I answered that I wished to become a clergyman. He said; "Do you wish to become a hypocrite and a charlatan?" I was surprised and shocked ... Mirza Shafi looked at me and said;  "Mirza Fath Ali do not waste your life among this abominable group of people and choose another profession." When I asked him about the reasons for his hatred of the clergy, he began to reveal matters which until then had remained hidden to me ... Until the return of my second father from pilgrimage, Mirza Shafi inculcated in me all the elements of mysticism, and removed the curtain of ignorance from my eyes. After this incident, I began to hate the clergy and I changed my intentions.' See Akhundzade, Alifba-yi Jadid va Maktubat, p.351.
7. With the encouragement of his mother's uncle, Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar, Mirza Fath Ali had already started studying Russian at a Russian school in his birthplace, the town of Nukha, before he moved to Tiflis. It is also important to note that it was Akhund Hajj Ali Asghar who took Mirza Fath Ali to Tiflis and asked the Russian governor, Baron Rosen, to employ the young Mirza Fath Ali as a translator of 'Oriental languages'.
8. This does not include the many trips he made to different parts of the Caucasus, accompanying the Russian army in its campaigns against the mountaineers of the Daghestan region who were fighting the Tsarist army.
9. Adamiyyat, Andishiha-yi Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade, p.21. J.Ja'afarov, M.F Akhundov, p.7.
10. Ibid., pp.12-14.
11. Akhundzade knew Abbas Qoli Aqa Bakikhanov (1794-1847), also known by his pen name Qodsi, the poet, satirist and historian who was the author of several important books, including a major work on the history of Shirvan and Daghestan entitled, Gulistan-i Iram (The Garden of Paradise). The book comprised the history of Daghestan, and Shirvan from ancient times to the conclusion of the first Russo-Iranian war and the signing of the Gulistan treaty in 1813. The son of Mirza Muhammad Khan, a local notable from the village of Amirhajan near Baku, Bakikhanov studied Persian and Arabic in his youth. In 1820, at the age of 26, he was employed by General Ermolov, the Russian vice regent of Transcaucasia, as the translator of Oriental languages. In Tiflis he studied Russian, and during theRusso-Iranian war of 1826-28 and the Russo-Ottoman war of 1829 he worked as a translator and adviser to General Paskevich, the commander of the Russian forces in Transcaucasia. He was also present at the signing of the Turkoman chaiTreaty in 1828, which marked the annexation of the Caucasus region by Tsarist Russia. In 1833, a year before Akhundzade arrived in Tiflis, Bakikhanov travelled north visiting Russia, Finland, Poland and the Baltic states, meeting a number of liberal and secular-minded Russian intellectuals including the poet Pushkin, thus adding more names to an already impressive list of politicians, writers and poets with whom he had developed a close friendship. Indeed, his long stay in Tiflis, as well as his 14-year service at the Russian chancellery, had enabled him to become closely acquainted with prominent Armenian, Georgian and Russian intellectuals living in the city at one point or another. He knew the Armenian nationalist writer Khachatur Abovyan, the Georgian nationalist poet Aleksandr Chavchavadze,and the Russian poets A.S. Griboyedov and Alexandr Betstuzhev Marlinsky.
In 1834, when Akhundzade arrived in Tiflis, it was Bakikhanov who in his capacity as the chief translator of Oriental languages examined the newcomer from Nukha and recommended him for positive consideration. Thus, through Bakikhanov, Akhundzade came to know the Russian authors and poets Marlinsky (1797-1837), the author of Ammalat Bek, and Prince Alexandr Odoyevsky (1802-39). Both had participated in the Decembrist uprising of 1825 against Tsar Nicholas I. They had been arrested and exiled to Siberia before they were allowed to serve in the Russian army in the Caucasus. They had arrived in the Caucasus in 1829 when the Tsarist army was trying to subdue the Chechens and Daghestanis, who had revolted under the leadership of Imam Ghazi Muhammad. Akhundzade also knew the Armenian nationalist writer Khachatur Abovyan (1805-48). The founder of the newArmenian literature and the author of Wounds of Armenia, Abovyan was kidnapped by 'unknown assailants' in 1848 andwas never seen again. Besides Abovyan, Akhundzade was also acquainted with the Armenian writer and playwright Gabriel Sandukian (1825-1912), who used his plays to attack not only traditional beliefs and customs, but also to attack the patriarchal culture and the money-dominated society which caused suffering and humiliation for the common people. Akhundzade also enjoyed a close friendship with the Georgian nationalist poet Aleksandr Chavchavadze (1786-1846) and the Georgian playwright Giorgi Eristavi (1811-64). Both Chavchavadze and Eristavi had participated in anti-Russian political activities, including a conspiracy which had aimed to separate Georgia from the Russian empire. Akhundzade also knew three influential Iranian intellectuals: the constitutionalist diplomat MirzaYusef Khan Mostashar ud-Dowla (?-1895), the Armenian-born diplomat and reformer Mirza Malkam Khan (1838-1908), and the nationalist and the anti-Arab Qajar prince Jalal ud- Din Mirza (1825-72). The three Iranians, however, had no influence on Akhundzade as a playwright. Akhundzade became acquainted with them and their writings after he had published his plays.
12. Akhundzade had read the works of British empiricists, particularly the writings of John Hume, which inspired him to write a short essay on Hume's rejection of causation theory. Akhundzade had also read John Stuart Mill and wrote an essay on Mill's concept of freedom. He had also studied the writings of French enlightenment thinkers, particularly the works of Voltaire whom he mentioned by name on several occasions. AmongEuropean historians and writers of the nineteenth century he was most impressed with the writings of the Swiss economist Sismondi; the English historian, author of a multi-volume, History of Civilization in England, Henry T. Buckle; and the philosophical works of the French thinker Ernest Renan, with whom he shared a belief in the ultimate triumph of science over religion (which Renan had equated with the victory of the Aryan race over the Semites).
13. The actual title of the manuscript was The Three Letters of the Indian Prince Kamal ud- Dowla to his Friend the Iranian Prince Jalal ud-Dowla, together with the Reply of Jalal ud- Dowla. The manuscript was undoubtedly Akhundzade's most important philosophical and political work. According to 'Subhdam'in his/ her introduction to the 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla', five hundred copies of the book were published secretly in Tehran in 1971. See Subhdam's introduction in Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade, Maktuhat, p.13.
14. Adamiyyat, Andishiha-yi Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade, p.19. See also Hasan Javadi, Satire in Persian Literature, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press,p.258.
15. Griboyedov's most important and influential piece, Gore ot uma,which has been translated as Woe From Wit, was completed in 1823 but was only performed in 1831and not published until 1833. Akhundzade had undoubtedly read this work and was greatly influenced by it.
16. The greatest influence on Akhundzade's works came from Moliere, the Russian eighteenth-century playwrights and the writings of Griboyedov and Gogol. It is important to note that the works of Griboyedov and Gogol dominated Russian satire and comedy in 1840s and 1850s.
17. Akhundzade completed three comedies in 1850: Hikayat-i Mulla Ibrahim Khalil-i Kimiyagar (The Story of Mulla Ibrahim Khalil the Alchemist); Hikayat-i Monsieur Jourdan Hakim-i Nabatat va Darvish Mast Ali Shah, Ma'aruf be Jadugar (The Story of Monsieur Jourdan the Botanist, and Dervish Mast Ali Shah also known as the Magician) or Hikayat-i Monsieur Jourdan Hakim-i Nabatat va Mast Ali Shah Jadugar-i Meshhur (The Story of Monsieur Jourdan the Botanist and Dervish Mast Ali Shah, the Famous Magician); and Sarguzasht-i Vazir-i Khan-i Sarab (The Adventures of the Vizier of the Khan of Sarab), later changed in the Persian translation to Sarguzasht-i Vazir-i Khan-i Lankaran(The Adventures of the Vizier of the Khan of Lankaran). In 1852 and 1853, Akhundzade wrote two more comedies: Hikayat-i Khirs-i Quldur-basan(The Story of the Bear that Caught the Robber) and Sarguzasht-i Mard-i Khasis (The Adventures of the Miser). Akhundzade wrote his last play, Hikayat-i Vukala-yi Murafi'a (The Story of the Attorneys in the Law suit), in 1855. Finally, in 1857, he wrote his only known short story and historical narrative, Aldanmish Kewakeb(The Betrayed Stars) or Hikayat-i Yusef Shah (The Story of Yusef Shah). With the encouragement and support of the Russian viceroy of Transcaucasia, Akhundzade translated his plays into Russian. Soon after the translations of the first three plays were completed, The Story of Monsieur Jourdan the Botanist and Dervish Mast Ali Shah also known as the Magician was performed first in St. Petersburg in 1851 and then in Tiflis in 1852. The Adventures of the Vizier of the Khan of Sarab was staged much later in 1873 at the first Azerbaijani theatre in Baku. The Russian translation of each play was published separately in the Russian government newspaper Kavkaz. Then, in 1853, all of Akhundzade's comedies except The Attorneys in the Law suit were published in Russian in one volume. The original Azerbaijani Turkish versions of the plays, including the short story The Betrayed Stars, were not published until 1859, and the Persian translation of the plays by Muhammad Ja'afar Qarachidaghi did not appear in print until 1873-74. See Akhundzade, Komediyalar. See also Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade, Tamsilat, translated into Persian by Muhammad Ja'afar Qarachidaghi (Tehran,1978); H.W Brands, 'Akhundzade', in Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol.1. p.332. A.A. Sharif, 'Akhundov', in Great Soviet Encyclopedia,Vol.1.
18. David Welsh, Russian Comedy, 1765-1823 (Mouton & Co, 1966), p.19.
19. In his first play, The Story of Mulla Ibrahim Khalil the Alchemist, Akhundzade took his readers and viewers back to his birthplace, the town of Nukha, and to an actual event which had taken place some seventy years earlier. Growing up in Nukha, Akhundzade had heard the story of a mysterious dervish from Iran who arrived in Nukha. During his stay the Iranian dervish greatly impressed the people of Nukha both with his knowledge of 'strange and unknown sciences' as well as his practice of medicine. The impression he left on the people of Nukha was such that, decades after his departure, the people of the district and the surrounding villages still remembered him as a magician who possessed the secret of an elixir that would transform base metals into silver. Having concluded that the Iranian dervish was merely a charlatan who had impressed the uneducated and simple-minded people of Nukha by trickery,Akhundzade decided to use the story as the basis for a play which would satirize his people's belief in the elixir.
The play begins at the house of Hajji Karim, the jeweller. A group of seven individuals are discussing the possibility of entering into a business venture with Mulla Ibrahim, who has reputedly mastered the science of transmuting copper and other metals to silver. With the sole exception of Hajji Nuri, the poet who represents reason, the other six are willing to give in to their greed and laziness and, searching for a quick and easy profit, strike a deal with Mulla Ibrahim.
Sheikh Salih, who represents the clergy in the play, swears on 'the Quran' that he has seen Mulla Ibrahim's power of transmuting metals to silver. In sharp contrast to the turban-clad sheikh, however, the wise poet, Hajji Nuri contends that such an elixir does not exist and that Mulla Ibrahim is simply a charlatan. Moreover, the poet maintains that the real elixir of life is to reach a high level of excellence and honesty in one's chosen profession.
The rational-minded poet criticizes all of the individuals present at the meeting for pinning their hope on a quick profit from the charlatan either because they are dishonest or because they have simply failed to excel in their professions. He tells Hajji Karim, the jeweller, that he could have become a wealthy and prominent man had he not cheated his customers. Hajji Nuri also attacks Aqa Zaman, the physician, for pretending to be a competent doctor. The wise poet maintains that no one trusts Aqa Zaman, because his ignorance and incompetence have meant the death of many people. Hajji Nuri further embarrasses the physician by reminding him that he has been told to stop treating fever by prescribing watermelon juice and has been advised to learn the cure for fever from Russian doctors. Yet Aqa Zaman has never accepted the suggestion. Hajji Nuri then confronts Mulla Salman, a local mulla who complains about his poverty. The poet states that Mulla Salman had chosen to become a mulla simply because his father was also a mulla. However, his father was a learned and educated man, while his son cannot even write his own name. It is not surprising, therefore, that people have no respect for him. Finally, Hajji Nuri attacks Safar Beyk, a local landowner who also wonders why he has not been able to become rich and wealthy. Hajji Nuri reminds the landowner that instead of encouraging his peasants to expand their products and cultivate their lands, he became involved in quarrels and filing complaints. As a result, he so aggravated the government officials that they finally jailed him for three years and then banished him for a second three years.
In response to Hajji Nuri's criticism, Hajji Karim, the jeweller, asks the poet to explain why he is as poor as the others, and cannot even feed himself at times. Hajji Nuri responds that in order to excel in his profession, he must have an audience who would appreciate poetry. Since his fellow townsmen, such as the ones present at the meeting, lack rationality, wisdom, enthusiasm and talent, no one could expect a positive response to his poetry. Hajji Nuri's critical attitude and particularly his criticism of Hajji Karim, Aqa Zaman, Mulla Salman and Safar Beyk fail to have any impact on the group at the jeweller's house. In fact, they are so irritated with Hajji Nuri and his denunciation of their dishonesty, irrationality, ignorance and professional incompetence that they rudely ask him to leave. With Hajji Nuri out of the picture, the group proceeds with its plan. By the end of the play, Mulla Ibrahim cheats and robs them of their investment in his fraudulent scheme.
Throughout the play, Akhundzade ridicules the ignorance and the simple-mindedness of the people of his birth place. For example, during their first visit to Mulla Ibrahim Khalil's camp, the men from Nukha see a dervish who is apparently an assistant to the magician, Mulla Ibrahim Khalil, nail the feet of a rooster to the ground while reciting the poetry of the Persian poet Sa'adi. The dervish then sits on a piece of leopard skin holding his knees while at the same time making strange noises. When the simpletons from Nukha ask Mulla Hamid, another assistant to the magician, about the strange dervish and the rooster, the young mulla laughs at their ignorance and stupidity for asking a question which clearly demonstrates their lack of familiarity with ancient sciences. He explains to the surprised men from Nukha that learned Greeks had concluded that a special form of grass, which only grows after a rooster's crow,is an integral component of the elixir. Thus Mulla Ibrahim Khalil, the master of transmutation, has ordered his servant, dervish Abbas, to stay awake the entire night in order to safeguard the rooster from attacks by wild animals such as foxes and jackals, so that the bird will crow and produce the grass which is used in the transmutation of metals. The ridiculous explanation by Mulla Hamid, the assistant to the chief charlatan, impresses the simpletons from Nukha to a degree that they can only mutter; 'God is great, Only god knows' before the curtain falls.
The play is centred on the conflict between reason and traditional and superstitious beliefs. Mulla Ibrahim Khalil, a charlatan, manipulates the ignorance and naivete of the people in order to enrich himself. In contrast to the character of Mulla Ibrahim Khalil, the well educated, rational and enlightened Hajji Nuri rejects the belief in miracles and elixir.
As in the rest of Akhundzade's comedies, the author used the plot as well as the protagonists to convey a social and cultural message. None of the individuals, including Mulla Ibrahim Khalil and Hajji Nuri, were well developed characters. The audience did not know where they came from, how they became who they were, or why they acted the way they did. Thus, instead of being multi-dimensional personages with complex personalities, they appeared as one-dimensional caricatures who represented the perspectives and the ideas of their creator. Through them, Akhundzade indicted the mores of his day and challenged his audience to question their superstitious and irrational beliefs.
20. The title of the play was changed in the Persian translation to The Vizier of the Khan of Lankaran.
21. The statement made by Taymur was not included in the original Turkish version of the play and was only added after the piece was translated into Persian by Muhammad Ja'afar Qarachidaghi. See Adamiyyat, Andishiha-yi Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade,pp.45-6.
22. In his excellent work on the life and ideas of Akhundzade, the Iranian historian Fraydun Adamiyyat maintains that the oration delivered by the Russian officer at the end of the play was added by Vladimir Sollogub, the first director of the Tiflis theatre presumably to ensure the approval of the play by the Russian censor. My reading of the play is that the presence or the absence of the oration at the end of the play does not affect the actual content of the play and the central role of the Russian officer who acts as the agent of progress and civilization. He attacks traditional beliefs and customs and undermines the power of the patriarchal Muslim family.
23. The benevolence and generosity of the Russian judicial system are also underscored in Akhundzade's next play, The Adventures of the Miser. The story begins with a long oration by Haydar Beyk, a young Muslim man from the Qarabagh region who resents the Russians, not because they have occupied his country, but because they demand that the natives abandon highway robbery for a civilized and settled life of farming the land or trading goods. Haydar Beyk's two friends, Safar Beyk and Askar Beyk, sympathize with him. They are well aware that without a great deal of money, their friend cannot marry his fiancee, Suna Khanom. The three beyks thus decide to organize a trip to Tabriz, the capital of the Iranian province of Azerbaijan, where they plan to purchase European-made goods, smuggle them illegally into Russia, and sell them for a quick profit; the proceeds will enable Haydar Beyk to marry his fiancee. Their plan has a flaw, however; they do not have the money to purchase the illegal goods. In an attempt to finance their trip, they decide to ask for help from a greedy and self-centred merchant named Hajji Qara who strikes a deal with the three beyks when he realizes that there will be a great deal of profit for him if he participates in the trip to Tabriz.
After returning from Tabriz and crossing the river Aras which constituted the border between Russia and Iran, the hajji who has parted way with the three beyks is detained by a group of Russian soldiers. Meanwhile, Haydar Beyk and his two friends manage to sell their smuggled goods in a local bazaar for a handsome profit. With the money from the sale of the smuggled goods, Haydar Beyk finally succeeds in marrying his fiancee, Suna Khanom. A day after the wedding, however, the Russian authorities, who suspect Haydar Beyk of involvement in an armed robbery, storm the young couple's home. During the interrogation, Haydar Beyk is quickly cleared of the charge of highway robbery. However, with the appearance of Hajji Qara on the scene, Haydar Beyk finally confesses and admits his involvement in the trip to smuggle goods from Iran to Russia. The Russians are about to detain Haydar Beyk when his wife intercedes on his behalf, pleading with the Russian officer in charge and begging him to spare the life and honour of her husband. The kind and just-minded Russian officer, who is greatly affected by Suna Khanom's tears and pleas, decides to forgive Haydar Beyk. In return, Haydar Beyk makes a promise to the Russian officer that he will make reparation for his crime by fighting in the Russian army in Daghestan against the enemies of the Russian Tsar (i.e. the Muslims of Daghestan who were fighting the Russian forces under the charismatic leadership of Sheikh Shamil, 1834-59). The Russian officer brings the play to an end with a long speech on the need for obedience and respec ttowards the Russian Tsar who acts as the representative of God and the prophet of God on earth.
24. See Reuben Levy, The Social Structure of Islam (Cambridge University Press, 1969), pp.116-17. See also, Shaykh Baha ud-Din Ameli, Jami-a Abbasi (Bombay, 1902), pp.260-325. Shiites believe that the prophet Muhammad approved of sigha whereas the Sunnis disagree. The term sigha refers to the actual contract or mihr,or mihriyya.
25. Historically, Darugha referred to the headman of a mahalla or a city quarter.
26. Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny(New York:Alfred A. Knopf, 1973), p.51. Dawn D. Eidelman, George Sand and the Nineteenth-CenturyRussian Love-Triangle Novels (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1994), p.65.
27. 'If any of your women commit fornication, call in four witnesses from among yourselves against them; if they testify to their guilt confine them to their houses till death overtakes them or till God finds another way for them.' Quran,Al-Nisa' (Women) 4:15.
28. Akhundzade, Asarlari, Vol.2. See also,'Dar Bari-yi Yek Kalama', in Baqir Moamani(ed.), Maqalat (Tehran, 1973).
29. It is important to note that Akhundzade ignored completely the historical fact that the 'Harem' system was not introduced by Islam. In pre-Islamic Iran, the system had existed from very ancient times.
30. It is true that in some of his private letters, Akhundzade stated that he did not intend to destroy Islam but instead wished to reform it. But these letters were written to individuals who were practicing Muslims. Clearly, Akhundzade did not trust them completely and at the same time he did not wish to insult their religious feelings and sensitivities. See for example his letter to Ali Khan, the Iranian consul in Tiflis. Akhundzade, Alifba-yi Jadid va Maktubat, p.297.
31. Akhundzade's views on Muslim intellectuals and reformers who refuse to attack Islam are articulated in his critique of Mirza Yusef Khan Mostashar ud-Dowla's Yek Kalama. Mostashar ud-Dowla had argued that Islam was compatible with constitutionalism and progress.
32. The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla, p.112.
33. Ibid., p.112.
34. Ibid., p.120.
35. Ibid., p.120. See also Quran, Al-Tahrim' (Prohibition), 66:1.
36. Ibid., pp.119-20.
37. Ibid., p.122. See also Quran,Al-Ahzab' (The Confederate Tribes), 33:36, 33:37.
38. Ibid., p.127.
39. Ibid., pp.124-5.
40. Ibid., pp.123-4.
41. Ibid., pp.126-7, 128-9.
42. Ibid., pp.127, 129-30.
43. Quran, Al-Nur'(Light),24:30,24:31.
44. Quran, 'Al-Ahzab'(The Confederate Tribes),33:53.
45. The Letters of Kamalud-Dowla,pp.126-7.
46. Ibid., pp.132-3.
47. Ibid., pp.179-80.
48. Ibid., p.179.
49. Ibid., p.179.
50. '... you may marry other women who seem good to you: two, three, or four of them.' See, Quran,'Al-Nisa' (Women) 4:1-4:3.
51. TheLettersof Kamalud-Dowla,p.181.
52. Ibid., p.181.
53. Ibid., p.182.
54. '... when you pass judgement among men, ... judge with fairness'. See Quran,'Al-Nisa' (Women) 4:57-4:58.
55. 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla', p.183. Akhundzade attacked those Quranic revelations that dealt primarily with veiling, polygyny and relationship between men and women. He didnot, however, present a systematic analysis of the Quranic revelations which dealt with the status of women in 'public' and 'private' spheres. Thus, Akhundzade did not mention the Quranic revelations regarding the law of inheritance: 'A male shall inherit twice as much as a female': Quran,'Al-Nisa' (Women) 4:11. And again: 'You [Men] shall inherit the half of your wives' estates if they die childless ... Your wives shall inherit one quarter of your estate if you die childless. 'Quran, Al-Nisa' (Women) 4:12. Moreover, Akhundzade ignored the Quranic revelations dealing with woman's body and sexuality: 'They ask you about menstruation, Say: It is an indisposition. Keep aloof from women during their menstrual periods and do not touch them until they are clean again. Then have intercourse with them in the way God enjoined you.' Quran, 'Al-Baqarah' (The Cow) 2:222. Akhundzade also remained silent on the Quranic revelation which declared men superior to women. The same revelation gave men the right to 'admonish' and even 'beat' their wives if they feared disobedience: 'Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them.' Quran,'Al- Nisa' (Women)4:34. Finally, Akhundzade had nothing to say about the Quranic revelation which granted Muslim men unlimited power in sexual intercourse: 'Women are your fields: go, then, into your fields whence you please. Do good works and fear God.' Quran,'Al- Baqarah' (The Cow) 2:222-2:223.
56. 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla', pp.181-2.
57. For a detailed account of the life of Hasan Ala Zikrihi s-Salam, see Ala ud-Din Ata Malik Juwayni, Tarikh-i Jahan gusha(composed in A.H. 658 = 1260) (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1937), Vol.3, pp.222-39. See also, Rashid ud-Din Fazlullah, Jami ut-Tawarikh, Qismat-i Ismailiyan va Fatimiyan va Nizariyan va Daiiyan va Rafiqan (composed in A.H. 704 1304),ed. Muhammad Taqi Danishpujuh and Muhammad Mudarrisi (Zanjani) (Tehran, 1959),pp.162-70; Hamdullah Mostowfi, Tarikh-i Guzideh (composed in A.H. 730 = 1330), ed. Edward Browne (Cambridge University Press, 1910), pp.521-3; Khwand Mir, Habib us-Siyar (composed in A.H. 930 = 1525), ed. Muhammad Dabir siyaqi (Tehran, 1984, 4 Vols.), Vol.2, pp.471-3; Ann Lambton, State and Government in Medieval Islam (Oxford University Press, 1985), pp.303-6; Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis. Their History and Doctrines (Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp.385-96.
58. 'The Letters of Kamal ud-Dowla', pp.134-5.
59. Ibid., pp.136-7.
60. Ibid., pp.136-7.
61. Ibid., p.137.
62. Ibid., p.137.
63. Ibid., pp.177-8.
64. Ibid., pp.177-8.
65. Ibid., p.178. For an in-depth study of the Babi movement and the role of Qurratul-Ain,
see Abbas Amanat, Resurrectionand Renewal. The Making of the Babi Movementin Iran, 1844-1850 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), pp.295-331. See also Abulqasim Afnan, Chahar Risali-yi Tarikhi dar bari-yi Tahireh Qurrat ul-Ain (Landegg Academy, Switzerland, 1991.
66. Ibid., p.178.
67. Martin Malia, 'Alexander Herzen and the Birth of Russian Socialism', pp.265-6. It is interesting to note that John Stuart Mill was among the writers who picked up the call for emancipation of women. Mill wrote The Subjection of Women, which was published in 1869. Akhundzade was greatly influenced by Mill's writings and he translated Mill's On Liberty (1859).
68. Eidelman, George Sand, p.21. For an excellent analysis of George Sand's works and ideas see Naomi Schor, George Sand and Idealism (Columbia University Press, 1993).
69. Ibid., p.49.
70. Ibid., p.49.
71. Ibid., p.50.
72. Ibid., p.50.
73. Akhundzade did not know any French and it remains uncertain whether he had read George Sand's works in their Russian translation. But even if he had not read Sand's works, it is very likely that he was influenced indirectly by the French author through the mediation of the many Russian writers such as Belinsky and Bakunin who were greatly affected by George Sand.
74. For example, the Russians Alexandr Bestuzhev Marlinsky and Alexandr Odoyevsky, the Georgian Aleksandr Chavchavadze and the Armenian Gabriel Sandukian.
75. Adamiyyat, Andishiha-yi Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzade, pp.46-8.
76. Akhundzade,Alifba-yi Jadid va Maktubat,pp.244-5.
77. Ibid., p.245.
78. Ibid., p.244-5.
79. Because of the content of his writings, Akhundzade felt a genuine fear for his life. It was this fear that prevented him from travelling to Iran in order to visit his friends and relatives. See his letter to Ali Khan, the former Iranian consul in Tiflis who was subsequently appointed to a new position in Azerbaijan: Akhundzade, Alifbay-i Jadid va Maktubat, p.313.

No comments: