Saturday, June 20, 2009

Behind the scene: Grand Ayatollah Hossein 'Ali Montazeri

In Shi'i Islam each individual follows or emulates a senior scholar who he or she respects for their erudition, wisdom and piety. Despite being dismissed as the chosen successor Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, and notwithstanding years of house arrest Grand Ayatollah Montazeri continues to be the marja' taqlid (or source of emulation) for many Iranians. (Comparatively few Iranians, or Shi'is elsewhere consider Supreme Leader 'Ali Khameinei worthy of emulation.)

I happened to be in Iran just after Ayatollah Montazeri had been released from six years of house arrest in 2003. I met with several of his followers (who were officials in the Iranian government) and they spoke at length about Montazeri who they revered. One, who fought on the front lines and barely survived the war with Iraq, recalled that he would rise early in the morning on the front lines and listen to Montazeri's sermons. He would try to make notes and study them later when the flow of battle allowed. When Montazeri was released from house arrest regime figures indicated that the decision was taken because he was ill. My informant had a different explanation. Despite his nominal isolation, Montazeri continued to enjoy the support of many Iranians and he was able to continue to receive impressive sums of khums (the annual one-fifth of a person's capital that is donated to the marja' or other reputable figures (esp. descendants of the prophet or sayyids). In other words, in spite of being under house arrest he sustained perhaps the largest base of followers of any senior Iranian cleric. My informant argued that his release reflected pressure by other senior clerics who preferred to have Montazeri as an ally rather than an adversary.

Montazeri weighed in on Tuesday with fatwa that stated that the results of the election "cannot be accepted by anyone of sound mind - and, based on reliable evidence, substantial alterations have been made in the votes of the people."

The full fatwa is translated here. The concluding paragraph will have much weight with those who are his followers:

"I advise all the officials, as well as the military and security forces, to uphold their religion and not sell their souls; they must understand that the term "officials are excused [because they are only doing their duty]" would not be accepted by the Almighty God on the Day of Judgement. They must regard the protesting youth as their own children, and refrain from violent and cruel actions. They must learn from the mistakes of the predecessors and understand that, eventually, those who oppress the people will receive their just comeuppance. In this day and age, one cannot hide the truth from the people through censorship, closures and restrictions of communication means."

Among other effects, Montazeri's views may well precipitate a split in the ranks of the security forces. Needless to add perhaps, but he is a dedicated foe of the Leader.

Helpful comments may also be found here on "Views from the Occident".

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