After a brief sketch of the historical background, the mutual impact of Islam and constitutionalism is examined by looking closely at the process of constitution-making in the broad context of the constitutional politics of Iran between 1905 and 1911. The modification of modern constitutional concepts under the impact of Shiʿi Islam and through its custodians in the course of the reception of Western constitutionalism in this period is followed by an analysis of the impact of modern political ideas on Islam. The analysis is based on the texts of the Fundamental Law of 1906 and its 1907 Supplement, and on the contemporary tracts for and against constitutionalism from opposite Islamic viewpoints. Our detailed examination of these sources indicates no presumption that a constitution had to be based on Islam. Nor was there any notion of ‘the Islamic state,’ the slogan of the Islamic revolution of 1979. For the constitutionalists and anti-constitutionalist pamphleteers of the first decade of the twentieth century alike, the counterpart to the constitutional government was not the Islamic state but the autocratic monarchy of ‘the king of Islam.’
The promotion of the Persianate normative model of imperial kingship was the major ecumenical contribution of the Persian bureaucrats who served the Saljuq and Mongol rulers of Iran and Anatolia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to state-building. The phenomenal growth of popular Sufism in Timurid Iran and early Ottoman Anatolia had a highly paradoxical impact on the legitimacy of kingship, making its conception increasingly autocratic. Both in the Ottoman and the Safavid successor empires, the disintegrative tendency of nomadic patrimonial empires was countered by variants of Persianate imperial monarchy. It is argued that the decisive event in sundering the ecumenical unity of the Persianate world was not the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, but the Mahdist revolution of the Safavid sheykhoghlu, Shah Esmāʿil, half a century later. The parting of ways stemmed from the variant of mystically enhanced autocracy adopted in the two cases—one with orthodox, Sunni, and the other with heterodox, Shiʿite inflection. The latter model became the Safavid model of autocracy under Shah Esmāʿil, and was quickly adopted by the Timurids after their conquest of India in 1526.