Information on a book written by Ali Dashty on the life of the Prophet Mohammad, whether it is banned in Iran, and on the penalties for holding this book [IRN30149.E]

The following information was provided during a 1 October 1998 telephone interview with a sociologist with the Iranian research group of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, who is also a chargée de conférences at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle Paris-III. The sociologist, who travels frequently to Iran for field research, spent the summer of 1998 in Iran. The sociologist obtained a copy of the book at a bookstore while living in Iran under the Shah and read it.

The sociologist stated that the book is entitled The Twenty-Three Days. The book discusses the Surat of the Quran. The book, banned under the Shah and under the current régime, is considered blasphemous. The book is circulated not in a "traditional book format" but mainly as photocopies which are passed on between individuals. The Twenty-Three Days is available in bookstores in Iran, but only for trusted people.

During the 1980s the Pasdaran and the Komiteh often searched private houses for such publications and arrested people for possessing them. These searches no longer occur today because the Pasdaran and the Komiteh need to obtain a search warrant before entering a private house. Although the book is banned, the need for a search warrant makes it very unlikely that people would be arrested for possessing such a book. The sociologist was unaware of any cases of penalties for holding Dashty's book.

According to The Ethnic NewsWatch, the

author, Ali Dashti was a controversial politician, journalist, and intellectual who spent alternate periods in Iranian prisons and public offices and was ultimately a victim, it seems, of the Iranian Revolution. Trained as a student in the tradition-bound madrasas of Iraq, he later turned to the study of French and the classics of Persian literature about which (the latter) he published extensively. Somewhere along the line of his checkered career, Dashti came under the influence of Orientalist scholarship on Muhammad and early Islamic history and resolved to use its rationalist techniques, à la Ernest Renen in his study of Jesus, to demystify the Muhammad depicted in standard Persian works in circulation in Iran, any one of which was "enough to poison a nation's mind and impair its capacity to think".Focusing on the twenty-three years of Muhammad's career as a prophet in Mecca and Medina, Dashti set out to strip the traditional sources of the sira of all their miraculous, irrational elements and to reinterpret those which seem unreasonable to modern, enlightened Muslims such as himself. All this sounds innocuous enough, and Dashti's (almost) contemporary Husayn Haykal, undertook the same task for Egyptians in his Hayat Muhammad. But unlike Haykal, who was careful to observe the proprieties of calm discourse and to avoid inflaming religious sensibilities, Dashti chose to be provocative, comparing Muhammad with Lenin, for example, and branding theologians' efforts to prove the necessity of prophethood "as nonsense". Not one to be diplomatic, even though he did serve as an Iranian diplomat, he cast such pearls as the following:The eventual solution was (Muhammad's) recourse to the sword, which became a major and essential factor in the diffusion and implantation of Islam. Killing and coercion were unsparingly used as a means to this end.While it is easy to understand why illusions and irrational ideas are so common among primitive peoples and lower classes of advanced nations, it is surprising to find them in a book (the Qur'an) deemed to be God's word and the preaching of a man who challenged his own people's superstition and sought to reform their customs and morals.While there were undoubtedly people who embraced Islam from sincere conviction and joined in the invasions of Syria and Iraq out of respect for the Islamic commandment of holy war, the evidence in the recorded history of the conquests shows clearly that the basic motive was desire to seize other people's property.
As unexceptional as these pronouncements might seem to secularists, Dashti's intended Persian readers were not secularists, and he could not have imagined that the book would have been welcomed, even accepted, in the Shah's Iran. As a result, the original Persian version was published anonymously in Beirut, ca. 1974. Its main value, especially in translation, has been as a curious relic of Iranian West-intoxication, alien to the audience for whom it was intended and otherwise irrelevant as a contribution to Western scholarship on Muhammad (31 Jan. 1996).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


The Ethnic NewsWatch. 31 January 1996. Donald Little. "Muhammad and the Origins of Islam." (Nexis)

Sociologist, CNRS-Monde Iranien and a chargée de conférences, Sorbonne-Nouvelle Paris-III, France. 1 October 1998. Telephone interview.