|Biographical detail : ||An Iranian Shah.
An army officer who tried to modernise the ancient Persian monarchy, Reza Shah came from a military background and rose rapidly from the rank to command the Persian Cossack Brigade after the First World War. In 1921 with other reformers, he seized power from the decadent Qajar dynasty – after two years he became prime minister and ruler of the country. Reza Shah’s actions were modelled on those of his contemporary Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, but in Persia he met with strong opposition, especially from the powerful Islamic clergy, to the establishment of a Turkish-style secular republic.
Reza Shah, in 1925, replaced the last Qajar Shah, taking the name Pahlavi for his dynasty, and in 1935 he changed the country’s name to Iran.
Reza Shah’s reforms and ruthless centralising methods suppressed brigandage, curbed tribal independence, modernised communications, built the first trans-Iranian railway, and promoted industrialisation. He encouraged education on Western lines and promoted the emancipation of women, abolishing the veil and making European dress compulsory for both sexes.
Reza Shah’s harsh policies deprived the ulama of their endowments, and he replaced the Shariah with a civil system, suppressed the Ashura celebrations, and forbade Iranians to go on the hajj. Islamic dress was prohibited and Reza’s soldiers used to tear off women’s veils with their bayonets and rip them to pieces in the streets. In 1935, when protestors peacefully demonstrated against the Dress Laws at Mashad, the soldiers fired on the unarmed crowd and there were hundreds of causalities. Ayatullah Muddaris, the cleric who attacked Reza Shah in the parliamentary Assembly, was murdered by the regime in 1937. Reza Shah totalitarian methods and personal seizure of huge areas of land reduced his popularity.
In the Second World War Iran’s pro-German stance aroused Allied fears of losing vital Iranian oil. British and Soviet forces invaded and forced Reza Shah to abdicate in favour of his son. Reza Shah died in exile.