اگرساكت بنشینم, گناه كرده ام
“If I sit silently, I have sinned”
A Guiding Principle
Introduction by Arash Norouzi
This is the story behind Iranian leader Mohammad Mossadegh’s famous quotation — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”.
(اگرساكت بنشینم, گناه كرده ام)
To commemorate the 12th anniversary of the Mossadegh Project, we are finally presenting the historical context for this simple, timeless phrase.
Amazingly enough, although these words actually date back to 1950, they have only been in circulation as a “quote” since 2004. Prior to then, it was just an unnoticed fragment of a sentence from a relatively obscure speech.
“If I sit silently, I have sinned” was one of many quotes translated by Dr. Ebrahim Norouzi in 2004, the year we began. Though several of our other Mossadegh quotes have also become well known (one was even recited in the U.S. Congress), the “sit silently” phrase has resonated like no other.
From the beginning, we recognized the great potential of this inspirational line, and featured it at the top of every single page of MohammadMossadegh.com and prominently on our Mossadegh shirts. It has since turned up in documentaries, articles, murals, signs and banners, and is quoted regularly on social media. Interestingly, it enjoyed a particular resurgence during the 2009 post-election turmoil in Iran, a most appropriate rallying cry given the continued repression and election fraud there — the very conditions this quote was born out of.
In addition to the wonderful succintness of the phrase, it also has the virtue of brilliantly encapsulating what Mossadegh was all about — what drove him to pursue his vision of a free and democratic Iran in the perilous world of politics.
For years, Dr. Mossadegh literally volunteered his services (he accepted no salary as Prime Minister), and in the course of doing so, endured all sorts of abuse, slander, incarceration, threats to his life, the tragic fate of his young daughter, the complete destruction of his home and pillaging of his personal property...all of this despite his advanced age, a nervous condition and chronic medical issues. Whatever one’s personal view of Mossadegh may be, there is no denying his commitment.
Just as Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930 led to India’s independence and Martin Luther King’s 1965 Selma to Montgomery March helped to bring about the Voting Rights Act in the U.S., Mossadegh’s 1949 procession to the Shah’s palace and four day sit-in protesting election rigging led to a seismic shift in the body politic of Iran, including the birth of the National Front.
We hope this chronicle of that event will help provide a better understanding of the true persona of Dr. Mossadegh and the era he lived in, which, in many ways, wasn’t too unlike our own.
If I sit silently, I have sinned
A guiding principle
By Ebrahim Norouzi, MD
Only a few years after the abdication of Reza Shah in 1941, Iran was once again spiraling into a cycle of one-man tyranny. This time, it was the young monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who yearned for the absolute rule his father once possessed.
Above all others, one man was most determined to save Iran from another dictatorship: Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. A well known minister, legislator and former governor, Mossadegh had suffered under years of house arrest and a period of harsh imprisonment at the hands of Reza Shah.
As a deputy in the 14th Majles (Parliament) in the years 1944-45, Mossadegh had been the leading critic of the illegal activities of the young Shah and other government officials. As with the former regime, he would pay a hefty price for his opposition. Through massive election rigging by the government, Mossadegh was denied a seat in the 15th Majles. Furthermore, to govern unimpeded, Premier Ahmad Ghavam delayed the opening of the Majles for 16 months, until June 1947.1
Deprived of his parliamentary platform and lacking any established party through which to continue his fight, Mossadegh withdrew to his village of Ahmadabad, 60 miles west of Tehran. He remained there for months, determining the situation “hopeless”. Many of his supporters soon became concerned, and questioned him about his prolonged absence from the political scene.
His response finally came in the form of an open letter, read aloud in the Majles by Deputy Hossein Makki on January 30, 1949. Acknowledging his long period of vacillation following “the defeat of the Iranian people in the 15th Majles elections”, Mossadegh encouraged opposition deputies to block passage of any oil agreement that was contrary to Iran’s interests, and to “represent the aspirations of the Iranian nation.” Though he made no personal commitment, he left the door open for joining the struggle at a later date, saying that Iran’s problems were of such national importance that they should not be endured in silence.2
Shortly afterward, the political climate of the country suddenly worsened when, on February 4, 1949, the Shah became the target of an assassination attempt. Although he escaped with only minor injuries, the Shah used the incident as a pretext to retaliate against anyone who stood in his path of accruing more power. Martial law was imposed, and arrest, detention and banishment of opposition figures became commonplace. Several adversarial newspapers were shut down and, in a highly controversial move, the Shah gained the right to dissolve the Majles by amending the constitution through a hastily established Constituent Assembly.3
Later, with the expiration of the 15th Majles in July 1949, the Shah boldly appointed his Court Minister, Abdol-Hossein Hazhir, to supervise the elections for the 16th Majles. Privately, Hazhir told the British Charge d’Affaires, Valentine George Nicholas Lawford, that he intended to prevent the re-election of Majles deputies who had opposed the ratification of a secretly negotiated oil agreement between Premier Mohammad Saed Maraghei and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The so-called ‘Supplemental Agreement’ had the full backing of the Shah and the government of Britain, AIOC’s major shareholder.4
All things considered, by the middle of 1949, the Shah had amassed enough power to rule the country unchallenged. This, however, was soon put to the test, when in August, voting irregularities in the cities for the 16th Majles generated numerous complaints and sparked many protests. It was at this juncture that Mossadegh re-emerged to resume the fight against the ongoing fraudulent elections and the Shah’s insatiable appetite for power.
To jump start his mission, on September 14, 1949, Mossadegh invited a number of newspaper men and several progressive Majles deputies to his home. After praising the journalists for their vital role in the defense of freedom and democracy, he moved directly to the urgent matter of the Shah’s revision of the constitution. “[A]t no time in our history have the rights of the nation and the constitution been under such devastating attack”, he warned.5
In a subsequent meeting on October 10th, Mossadegh received the consent of seven newspaper editors to publish a statement prepared and signed by him. In the statement, printed on October 13, Mossadegh called on “the free-thinking and benevolent people of the country” to participate in a peaceful protest the following day in front of the Shah’s Marble Palace on Kakh Avenue.
The purpose was to raise public awareness about the problem of government meddling in the elections, while petitioning the Shah to intervene constructively in the matter. Clearly, it was a case of ‘Catch-22’, as the Shah and his Court Minister were the prime perpetrators of the election shenanigans. All the same, Mossadegh wanted to hold the Shah to account, and either adhere to democratic principles of free and fair elections or be viewed as a cheat and a despot.6
Mossadegh’s call to protest provoked the police to issue a communiqué labeling the would-be protesters a bunch of “instigators” aiming to disrupt the country’s social order. Undeterred, Mossadegh refused to call off the protest.
In the early morning hours of Friday, October 14th, Kakh Avenue was swarming with security forces, particularly in front of Mossadegh’s residence and the neighboring Marble Palace where the Shah was staying. In yet another attempt to stop the protest, the Chief of Police sent an officer to Mossadegh’s home warning him of possible violence and loss of life. Mossadegh responded by explaining that their intentions were peaceful, and in any case, they were prepared to face the consequences of their actions. Before leaving, he told several of his close supporters that his intention was to lead a walk to the palace in accordance with the teachings of Gandhi.7
At around 10:00 AM, Mossadegh stepped out of his house and joined a gathering crowd of eager supporters, which included intellectuals, journalists, religious figures, students, heads of trade unions, and even representatives from several cities. At this time, “Someone began to shout Allahu Akbar and other slogans”, recalled one eyewitness. “Mossadegh said that our slogan is peace and anybody who does not remain peaceful is not one of us.”8
Arm in arm with Dr. Mossadegh on his right: journalist Mostafa Alamouti; the man opposite may have been a bodyguard of some kind. Shams-al-Din Amir-Alai, with outstretched arm, is seen on the left. Dr. Karim Sanjabi, Abol-Hassan Haerizadeh and others are visible behind Mossadegh.
Dr. Mossadegh is joined by, among others, Abol-Hassan Haerizadeh on his left and Mostafa Alamouti, Abbas Khalili and Saeid Fatemi to his right. Hossein Makki stands in the foreground, arms folded.
Minutes afterward, under the gaze of the security forces, Mossadegh began to lead the crowd peacefully on a short walk to the gates of the palace. Meanwhile, as more people arrived, the size of the crowd reportedly grew to several thousand, filling both Kakh Avenue and connecting streets.
On the way, all of a sudden, an individual in the crowd shouted, “Oh, people! I had a dream last night that Mossadegh has made a coup and become the President.”9 Members of the crowd immediately encircled him until the police took him away. Later, the police claimed that he was mentally ill and had been transferred to an asylum. It was soon learned that he was in fact an agent provocateur attempting to create a pretext for the security personnel to attack the crowd and break up the protest by inciting fears that Mossadegh was aiming to replace the monarchy with a republic.10
‘Hassan’, the provocateur who shouted about Mossadegh, is removed.
Shortly after this brief commotion, Mossadegh handed his signed petition to an officer of the royal guard to the attention of “His Imperial Majesty the Shah”. The officer invited him to come inside the palace and wait for a reply. “Shame on me if I enter and leave all these great folks behind...”, said Mossadegh. “Don’t try to drive a wedge between me and the people...we are all of one and the same spirit”.11
The nearly two page petition said: “The adverse events in the elections for the 16th Majles has resulted in thousands of telegrams and complaints from all around the country to the responsible authorities, but regrettably they have received not the slightest attention...it is for this reason that today representatives from all sections of Tehran residents are in a state of protest... and have decided to take sanctuary in the palace....The extent of election fraud in the cities has reached a point that under the threats of torments and injuries from the authorities...groups of people have either traveled to Tehran or sought shelter in the nearest telegraph offices or in the holy shrines.” Mossadegh ended by saying “...Until your strict orders on the matter [are issued] and a result is attained, we intend to stage a sit-in.”12
The Shah was infuriated by the sight of the street protest and considered arresting Mossadegh and his companions. He only refrained from doing so at the advice of Lawford, the British Charge D’ Affaires, who had been in contact with the Shah and Hazhir during the entire episode.13
Abdol-Hossein Hazhir, the Shah’s Court Minister, returns to the palace.
After some anxious moments, Hazhir showed up at the palace gate with a brief message from the Shah which said that the elections were free, but any complaints would be investigated. Incensed by the Shah’s insincere response, Mossadegh poked Hazhir in the chest with his right hand and asked him to swear in good conscience if he really believed the elections were free and fair. The palace belongs to the people, he said, and the Shah should allow everyone inside for a sit-in until they were given a satisfactory response. Hazhir questioned the practicality of the request, but after consulting the Shah, said that they were willing to let in 20 people as representatives. Mossadegh acquiesced, and quickly a 20 member team, which included himself and Dr. Hossein Fatemi, editor of Bakhtar-e Emrouz newspaper, was assembled.14
Before staging a sit-in. (Right to left) Front row: Mahmoud Narieman, Mohammad Reza Jalali Naeini, Karim Sanjabi, Abdolghadir Azad Khorasani, Ayatollah Gharavi, Dr. Mossadegh, Abbas Khalili, Ahmad Zirakzadeh. 2nd row: Unknown, Dr. Reza Shervin, Hossein Fatemi, Shams-al-din Amir-Alai, Ali Shayegan, Abol-Hassan Amidi Nouri, Abol-Hassan Haerizadeh. 3rd row: Mostafa Alamouti, Unknown, Arsalan Khalatbari, Hossein Makki, Unknown
Before entering the palace, Mossadegh took to the microphone, telling the crowd “My dear brothers, the patriotic sons of Iran, you proved today that you are able to stand firm against oppression and tyranny....We are going to take sanctuary in order to wrest your rights and prevent unlawfulness...” That afternoon, to avoid facing Mossadegh and others, the Shah slipped out of the palace and went to Lashgarak, a nearby ski resort, where he remained until the end of the palace protest.15
After two fruitless days, they began a hunger strike. This too was in vain, and the following day, October 17, the exhausted delegates ended their protest and left the premises seemingly empty handed. In a signed statement, the participants announced that “[O]ur country’s dire condition is due to corruption, greed and narcissism, and its solution can only be found in free elections....Even though we submitted to his Highness our complaint regarding government meddling in the elections, we received no response for four days…this is why we halted our sit-in and exited the palace....We hereby declare that there was no truth to the claim of free elections....Thus, any decisions taken regarding the vital issues of the country [in the next Majles] would not represent the true and accurate wishes of the nation.”16
The same day, in a letter to Hazhir, Dr. Mossadegh wrote: “...the main purpose of taking sanctuary was...to have a Majles in the country that would be able to bring about fundamental reform and lessen people’s poverty and misery...if the country’s poverty and misery were not the result of the policies of the ruling elites...then what is the cause of all the wretchedness in the society?17
Late that afternoon, Mossadegh received a note from Hazhir, written ostensibly as a response from the Shah, and presented copies of reports by the Minister of Interior regarding the free nature of the elections and several telegraphs indicating the people’s satisfaction with their conduct.18
Mossadegh did not stop there as, a week later, on October 23, 1949, he invited participants of the sit-in for a luncheon meeting to his house in Ahmadabad. That day, Dr. Fatemi, who had just written an article about the necessity of forming “either a strong party or a powerful front” said, “...now that we have better appreciation of the benefits of working together and understanding the power in unity, we should organize our efforts under the banner of a new entity called ‘National Front’…” After a long discussion, Dr. Fatemi’s recommendation was unanimously approved, and all the delegates formed the core membership of the newly established National Front (Jebhe Melli).19
Unexpectedly, several days later on November 4, Abdol-Hossein Hazhir was gunned down by a member of Feda’ian-e Islam, a militant religious group. Immediately, the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty returned to the country, and several National Front members were detained as part of a broader crackdown.
In a telephone call to the police chief, Mossadegh contested the detention of his colleagues, saying that if their offenses were due to their objection to election fraud or the unfair nature of the oil agreement, he too should be arrested—otherwise they should all be released. The police obliged by placing Mossadegh himself under house arrest in Ahmadabad.20
Yet just as the skies appeared darkest, the momentum began to shift in favor of the national movement. In fact, the seemingly failed palace protest had raised public awareness about the election fraud issue so effectively that it could be neither ignored nor refuted. The Shah was now compelled to order an investigation into the matter.
On November 11, in a rare moment of candor, the election supervisor confessed the fraudulent nature of the Tehran elections and called for a repeat election in February 1950. In the meantime, Mossadegh released from house arrest after 34 days, returned to Tehran on January 14, 1950 to participate in the election. By now the National Front, with its heavy reliance on the persona of Dr. Mossadegh, had attracted millions of supporters throughout the country. Their support was strongest among merchants, intellectuals, university students, workers, peasants and middle and lower income classes.21
The Tehran election in February was comparatively free from government interference. When the winning candidates were announced, Mossadegh was the number one representative, having received more than half of 56,000 total votes. In addition, six other National Front members were elected from Tehran, including Allahyar Saleh, the future Ambassador to the U.S., elected from his hometown of Kashan.22
On June 13, 1950, a couple of months after the opening of the 16th Majles, Mossadegh spoke about his lengthy period of inaction in 1947-48, and revealed why he had decided to break his long silence and return to the struggle.
“Some individuals who later formed the National Front came to me expressing concerns about the Tehran elections and what can be done about it. Since I had made many efforts regarding the election problems for the 15th Majles and had not succeeded, I was reluctant to return to the political scene for the 16th Majles election, but after much reflection, I realized that if I sit silently, I have sinned”.23
(اگرساكت بنشینم, گناه كرده ام)
With Mossadegh’s leadership, the small group of elected National Front members dominated events in the country for months, leading to their finest hour when nationalization of Iran’s oil industry became the law of the land.
On April 28, 1951, just before the passage of the bill that gave practical application to the Oil Nationalization Law, Mossadegh was easily elected Prime Minister, having received nearly 90% of the votes in the Majles.
If I Sit Silently, I Have Sinned: A Guiding Principle by Ebrahim Norouzi — October 25, 2016. Edited and introduced by Arash Norouzi. All quotes translated by Ebrahim Norouzi. © The Mossadegh Project
♥ In loving memory of Pepe (2004-2016).
1 Colonel Gholamreza Nejati, MOSSADEGH: The years of struggle and opposition (1998), Vol. 1, p. 113 (Persian)
2 Homa Katouzian, Musaddiq and the Struggle For Power In Iran (1990), p. 69 | Mohammad Ali Safari, Pen and Politics, p. 250
3 Mohammad Ali Safari, Pen and Politics, pp. 256 and 261-62 (Persian)
4 Fakhreddin Azimi, IRAN: The Crisis of Democracy (2009), pp. 206-07, citing British Foreign Office records, Valentine George Nicholas Lawford to Bernard Alexander Brocas Burrows, September 26, 1949
5 Nejati, Vol. 1, p. 127 | Nasrollah Shifteh, Dr. Hossein Fatemi, Biography and Political Struggles, p. 93 (Persian)
6 Safari, p. 290-94, Nejati, Vol. 1, p. 133 | Shifteh, p. 94 | Azimi, p. 208
7 According to eyewitness Seyyed Mostafa Motarjem Madani, interviewed in Paris, 2004 by Amir Shahab Razavian: [link]
10 Nejati, Vol. 1, p. 134 | Shifteh, p. 95
11 Safari, pp. 290-91
12 Safari, pp. 292-93
13 Farhad Diba, Mohammad Mossadegh, A Political Biography (1986), p. 95
14 List of the 20 sit-in members:
1) Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, ex-governor, minister and Majles deputy
2) Ahmad Maleki, editor of Setareh newspaper
3) Yousef Mushar, Majles deputy and an ex-minister
4) Shams al-Din Amir-Alai, ex-minister in Ghavam’s government
5) Dr. Ali Shayegan, Tehran University professor and ex-minister
6) Mahmoud Narieman, ex-minister and ex-Tehran mayor
7) Dr. Karim Sanjabi, Tehran University professor
8) Dr. Reza Kaviani, an economist and a member of Iran Party
9) Dr. Mozaffar Baghai, Majles deputy and editor of Shahed newspaper
10) Hossein Makki, Majles Deputy
11) Abdolghadir Azad, Majles Deputy
12) Abolhassan Haerizadeh, Majles Deputy
13) Abbas Khalili, editor of Eghdam newspaper
14) Abolhassan Amidi-Nouri, Dad newspaper
15) Dr. Hossein Fatemi, editor of Bakhtar-e-Emrouz newspaper
16) Mohammad Reza Jalali Naeini, editor of Keshvar newspaper
17) Arsalan Khalatbari, Iran Party member and a deputy
18) Ahmad Zirakzadeh, Iran Party member and editor of Jebhe newspaper
19) Seyyed Jafar Gharavi, a cleric
20) Hassan Sadr, Lawyer and editor of Ghiam-e Iran
Nejati, p.135 | Katouzian, p.73
15 Safari, p. 291 | Shifteh, pp. 95-97
16 Nejati, Vol. 1, p. 136-37 | Shifteh, pp. 97-98
17 Safari, pp. 293-94
18 According to Seyyed Mostafa Motarjem Madani, interviewed in 2004 by Amir Shahab Razavian: [link]
19 Safari, pp. 299-303 | Katouzian, p. 73-74 | Shifteh, 98-99
20 Safari, pp. 298-99
21 Safari, p. 299 | Scholar and former CIA agent Richard W. Cottam in Nationalism in Iran (1964), p. 262 wrote that the movement by this time had “crystallized into Iranian Nationalism guided by a great leader and possessed of a feeling of an almost mystical national mission.”
22 Cottam, p. 261 | Nejati, Vol. 1 p. 146 | Afrasiabi, pp. 121-22
23 Safari, pg. 290, re Mossadegh’s speech in Majles, June 13, 1950 | Nejati, Vol. 1, p. 133
• This article includes photographs by the late Seyyed Mostafa Motarjem Madani, as supplied to journalist Amir Shahab Razavian: [link]
• Mossadegh’s inspirational words “If I sit silently, I have sinned” bring to mind a line from Saadi, the revered 13th century Persian poet: “If I see a blind person at the edge of a well, if I sit silently it’s a sin”.
(وگر بینم که نابینا و چاه است، اگر خاموش بنشینم گناه است)
The Nation’s Martyr: Hossein Fatemi, Iran’s Young Foreign Minister
Mossadegh Reprimands Pro-Soviet (Communist) Leaders in Parliament (1944)
Memorializing Dr. Mossadegh — Fearlessly
Indian Writer Hails Mossadegh As “Hero of the East” (1954)
MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”