Although the inception of modernity took place first in Europe in the 19th century, its aftermath affected the whole world including Iran. In this period, the Qajar kings were ruling over Iran, who encouraged modernity in the country. One of the important contacts between Iran and Western countries dates back to its war with Russia, where Iran was defeated.
By the time, Abbas Mirza who was Fath Ali Shah’s (2nd Qajar King reigning from 1797-1834) Son and the Crown Prince led the army in the war. The defeat against Russia made Abbas Mirza considers the advancement of the Western modern world, encouraging him to dispatch merchants and students to the West in order to learn science. The return of these students and merchants to Iran marks the beginning of modernity in the country.
However, when Amir Kabir became the Prime Minister of Naser Al-Din Shah (4th Qajar King reigning from 1848-1896), modernity moved into a new phase as he was in fact the initiator of organized reformations, introducing him as the founder of modernity in Iran.
Particularly, he founded Dar ul-Funun, a college for teaching modern sciences, sent students to Europe to learn new sciences, and ordered the publication of Vagay-e Etefagheye newspaper to increase public awareness.
Following the travel of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar to Europe, and his acquaintance with the European culture and lifestyle, the reforms were kept continued. He sent a group of students to Europe to learn lawmaking and on how to establish different ministries. In this regard, the House of Law and Legislation Studies was created that aimed to study and justify the need for written and codified rules. The intellectuals who had gone to Europe came back while they were influenced highly by Western culture.
The presence of Europeans in Iran intensified the locals’ direct contact with this culture and modernity. Such initiatives and situations could be regarded as a start point of a great evolution in Iran.
Development of cities, streets, vehicle imports, and most importantly the Constitutional Revolution of Iran during 1905-1911 are the results of Europe’s effects. After the Constitutional Revolution, parliament and law-making were established, leading to a decrease in the power of the monarchy. Pahlavi Kings (1925-1979) also made many more reforms and improvements, out of which include the construction of universities, railways, and roads.
The reforms led to the development of the economic and civil lives of the citizens but at the same time, religious beliefs and values were challenged and downplayed. The Iranian, on the whole, with their Islamic beliefs did not accept the Constitutional Revolution or modernity on its Western style.
This made a kind of Islamic modernity in the country such that local cultural and religious Islamic Shiite values were mixed with Western modernity and in fact, a localization of Western lifestyle occurred. When Islam became an inseparable part of this new school of thought, the Iranian on the one hand, and the authorities, on the other hand, accepted it.