WAKIL-AL-RAʿĀYĀ, well known regional title assumed by Karim Khan Zand (r. 1164-93/1751-79) after he established himself at Shiraz in 1179/1765. It is recorded in variants wakil-al-raʿiya, wakil-e raʿiat, and wakil-al-ḵalāʾeq, all meaning “deputy of the people,” and marked a significant change of polarity in the wording of Karim Khan’s title from wakil-al-dowla (viceroy; Rostam-al-Ḥokamāʾ, p. 333; Donboli, II, p. 31; A Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia, I, p. 664; Perry, 1979, pp. 215-17).

The formula was not an ad hoc invention, but denoted an established office, that of a provincial magistrate, appointed by the ruler to promote harmony among the social classes and to investigate injustice, especially corruption or extortion by government officials. The term is first attested under the Safavids, in two manuals of administration, as an ex-officio post of the kalāntar (mayor) of the capital city of Isfahan (Minorsky, fols. 77b-78a, p. 82; Dānešpažuh, pp. 421-23; Lambton, p. 207, citing Du Mans, Le Brun, and Tavernier). The wakil-al-raʿāyā was thenceforth attested as an independent official, appointed by decree of the ruler, in a dozen of the provincial centers of Persia from at least the later Safavid era until the twilight of Qajar rule (approx. 1122-1328/1710–1910).

Thus, both a kalāntar and a separate wakil-al-raʿāyā were among eight administrative officials appointed in Isfahan by Karim Khan in 1165/1752, before he is reported to have assumed this title for himself (Rostam al-Ḥokamāʾ, p. 307). In other instances, in 1194/1780 ʿAli-Morād Khan Zand (r. 1781-85) issued a patent appointing one Āqā Moḥammad-Mahdi as wakil-al-raʿāyā of Qom, with a fixed salary, stipulating that the governor and other civic officials, the kalāntar, and kadḵodāyān (ward aldermen, see KADḴODĀ), should recognize him as sole and autonomous wakil (wakil be’l-esteqlāl wa’l-enferād; Moširi, p. 192). This same formula is found in the letters patent appointing Mirzā Moḥammad-Jaʿfar as wakil of Tabriz in 1314/1896; the other functionaries, the nobles, and the subjects (raʿāyā) are exhorted to defer to his seal and signature and to heed his recommendations, “which are to the advantage of the state.” He himself is urged to devote himself to eliminating inequity between partners and oppression of the peasantry (Nāder Mirzā Qājār, pp. 235-36).

Mirzā Kāẓem of Tabriz (appointed wakil-al-raʿāyā in 1280/1863) figures in an anecdote which illustrates this official in action. During a riot in which several residences were looted, a merchant lost a wallet full of confidential documents. Someone reported to the Wakil that he had seen one of the looters of the merchant’s house hide some loot at his brother-in-law’s home. The Wakil sent his bailiffs (farrāšān), recovered the wallet from the miscreant’s sister, and dismissed her husband (who was not involved in the theft) with a small reward (Nāder Mirzā Qājār, p. 200).

As a local magistrate, the wakil-al-raʿāyā in Qajar times was necessarily involved in local, and occasionally, national politics; e.g., Mirzā Abu’l-Ḥasan, wakil-al-raʿāyā of Kāšān, played a part in the struggle for succession after the death of Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah in 1250/1834 (Narāqi, pp. 248-49).

On the eve of the Constitutional Revolution in 1906, wokalāʾ-al-raʿāyā in cities all over Persia participated in the popular movement, one such being the wakil-al-raʿāyā of Kermānšāh (Ẓahir-al-Dowla, p. 43). Some were elected to the new parliament (majles). The first, and best-known, of these was Ḥāji Shaikh (Moḥammad) Taqi “Irāni," the wakil-al-raʿāyā of Hamadān, who lived up to his remit as spokesman for the oppressed, in particular by proposing (unsuccessfully) that women be enfranchised (Browne, p. 131; The Times, 22 August 1911, p. 3 and 28 August 1911, p. 3; Afary, pp. 73, 76-77). He was joined by Mirzā Moḥsen of Jahrom, from a long line of wakils, whose son, Ḥosām-al-Din, adopted the surname Wakilpur and served in the 17th Majles (1952-53). A deputy from Mahābād in the 6th to the 12th Majles (1926-1941) was likewise the son of a wakil-al-raʿāyā. The early parliamentary history of Persia records a dozen names such as Wakil, Wakili, and Moʿin-al-Raʿāyā, who were most likely wokalāʾ-al-raʿāyā or their progeny (Šajiʿi, pp. 293, 306, 320, 338, 343, 368, 378). The transition from wakil-e raʿāyā (people’s deputy) to wakil-e majles (parliamentary deputy, the term that preceded the modern namāyanda-ye majles, which is not recorded before 1925) was so natural as to go unnoticed. The equation was in fact registered as early as 1230/1815, when an Iranian visitor to London glossed the House of Commons in Persian as kāna-ye wakil-al-raʿāyā (distinct from kāna-ye ḵawānin, the House of Lords), and referred to an individual Member of Parliament as wakil-al-raʿāyā (Širāzi, pp. 17-18, 323).

It has been argued that the post originated in that of a Sasanian official, the yātakgōw dātwar-ē drigōšān or, as transcribed in more recent studies, driyōšān-jādaggōv ud dādvar (advocate-judge of the poor) attested in fourteen provinces (šahr) from Mesopotamia to Khorasan (de Menasce, pp. 282-87; Gyselen, pp. 43-64, map on p. 91; see also Perry, 1978, p. 205; Idem, 2007, pp. 48-50). The origin of the Arabicate phrase wakil-al-raʿiya can be seen as the nominalization of a significant verb phrase in a political testament of the year 286/821, attributed to the first independent Iranian dynast in ʿAbbasid Khorasan, Abu’l-Ṭayyeb ṬāherI b. al-Ḥosayn Ḏüu’l-Yaminayn (r. 821-22); in this he instructs his son and successor designate, ʿAbd-Allāh (r. 828-45): “Appoint as agents [wakkil] in this work of seeking out the oppressed, reliable people from among your subjects [min raʿiyatika]” (Bosworth, p. 39). Subsequent urban officials such as the Saljuq raʾis, the Āq-qoyunlu parvānači-e ʿajaza wa masākin (‘secretary of the powerless and indigent’), and eventually the kalāntar, may be seen as continuing this tradition (Lambton, pp. 383, 387; Woods, pp. 122, 267; Perry, 1978, p. 208).


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J.de Menasce, “Le protecteur des pauvres dans l’Iran sassanide,” Mélanges d’Orientalisme offerts à Henri Massé à l’occasion de son 75éme anniversaire, Tehran, 1963, pp. 282-87.

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Ḥasan Narāqi, Tāriḵ-e ejtemāʿi-e Kāšān, Tehran, 1966.

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Idem, “The Vakil al-raʿāyā: a Pre-modern Iranian Ombudsman,” in Iran und iranisch geprägte Kulturen: Studien zu Ehren von Bert G.Fragner; überreicht an seinem 65. Geburtstag (Beiträge zur Iranistik), ed. B.Hoffmann, R.Kauz, and M.Ritter, Wiesbaden, 2007, pp. 41-50.

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J.E.Woods, The Aqquyunlu, Clan, Confederation, Empire, Minneapolis and Chicago, 1976.

Mirzā ʿAli Khan Qājār Ẓahir-al-Dowla, Asnād-e tāriḵi-e waqāʾeʿ-e Mašruṭa-ye Irān, ed. J.Qāʾem-Maqāmi, Tehran, 1969.

(John Perry)

Originally Published: August 15, 2009

Last Updated: August 15, 2009