Calendric Contestations in Early 20th-century Iran

In the aftermath of the 1906 Constitutional Revolution, a sense of a ‘new time’ and ‘newness’ emerged in Iran and a cluster of temporal concepts like “new Iran,” “new epoch,” “new age,” etc. entered into the everyday discourse. This sense of a new time crystallized into a newly defined relationship of ‘past,’ ‘present,’ and ‘future’ and a distinct temporalization emerged. The emerged sense of ‘new time’ was reinforced and institutionalized with the changing of the calendar in 1911 and 1925. In 1911, parliament passed a law through which the solar Jalālī calendar was recognized as the official administrative calendar of Iran alongside the Islamic lunar Hijrī calendar, which was used for the reckoning of religious rituals. The Jalālī calendar of 1911 had Iranian, Islamic, Arabic, and Mongolic elements. In 1925, legislators purged the Arabic and Mongolic elements of the Jalālī calendar, and at this stage the Mongolic sediments in the Iranian calendar were totally expelled. Although the Islamic origin of the calendar, which was the migration of the Prophet Muhammad to Medina, did not change, through changing the Arabic names of the months to the Persian names – and the adoption of the solar-Iranian 365-day year instead of the lunar-Islamic 354-day year – the calendar’s nature was transformed to a more Iranian one. These fundamental changes in the calendar’s elements bridged the recently emerged new sense of time, which was an “individualistic definition” as opposed to cosmological time, which has an “independent existence” from humans, is related to the movement of the sun, moon, and the planets, and is expressed chronologically as serial instants. This changing of the calendar’s elements did not happen straightforwardly, and was accompanied by lots of debates and contestations, which reflected different views and plans for the future in the pro-Constitutional Revolution time. This paper investigates the relationship of the emergent conceptions of new time after the Constitutional Revolution and the two stages of the calendar’s alteration in 1911 and 1925.