- Islamic fundamentalism in Iran
The history of fundamentalist Islam in Iran (or History of Principle-ism) covers the history of Islamic revivalism and the rise of political Islam in modern Iran. Today, there are basically three types of Islam in Iran: traditionalism, modernism, and a variety of forms of revivalism usually brought together as fundamentalism. Neo-fundamentalists in Iran are a subgroup of fundamentalists who have also borrowed from Western countercurrents of populism, fascism, anarchism, Jacobism and Marxism.
The term Principlists, or Osoulgarayan, is an umbrella term commonly used in Iranian politics to refer to a varieties of conservative circles and parties. The term contrasts with reformists or Eslaah-Talabaan who seek religious and constitutional reforms in Iran.
"Fundamentalism is the belief in absolute religious authority and the demand that this religious authority be legally enforced. Often, fundamentalism involves the willingness to do battle for one's faith. Fundamentalists make up only one part of any religion's followers, who usually fall along a wide spectrum of different interpretations, beliefs and strong values."
"In western usage these words [Revivalism and Fundamentalism] have a rather specific connotation; they suggest a certain type of religiosity- emotional indeed sentimental; not intellectual, perhaps even anti intellectual; and in general apolitical and even anti-political. Fundamentalists are against liberal theology and biblical criticism and in favor of a return to fundamentals-i.e. to the divine inerrant text of the scriptures. For the so call fundamentalists of Islam these are not and never have been the issues. Liberal theology have not hitherto made much headway in Islam, and the divinity and inerrancy of the Quran are still central dogmas of the faith ... Unlike their Christian namesakes, the Islamic fundamentalists do not set aside but on the contrary embrace much of the post-scriptural scholastic tradition of their faith, in both its theological and its legal aspects."
The Islamist version of political Islam ("neo-fundamentalism" in this article) emerged in response to the perceived shortcomings of fundamentalism. The Islamists, with their cosmopolitan backgrounds, introduced various tools they had borrowed from the West into their organizational arsenal. Ideologically, they drew on antimodernist philosophies that embodied Western dissatisfaction with the consequences of industrialization and positivism.
Iranian fundamentalists and conservatives, commonly describe themselves as "principalist" (also spelled principle-ist); that is, acting politically based on Islamic and revolutionary principles.
Currently there exists three main types of Islam in Iran: traditionalists (represented by Hossein Nasr, Yousef Sanei), modernists (represented by Abdolkarim Soroush), fundamentalists (represented by Ali Khamenei, Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, and several Grand Ayatollahs the youngest one Mahdi Hadavi). Subsequently, religious fundamentalism in Iran has several aspects that make it different from Islamic fundamentalism in other parts of the world. Finally, fundamentalism in Iran is not limited to religious fundamentalism. In fact, Iranian secular fundamentalists can be just as dogmatic and ideological as religious fundamentalists—-deny that any religious law or social practice can be just or equal. The terms Iranian "conservatism," "fundamentalism" and "neo-fundamentalism" are all subject to numerous philosophical debates. Javad Tabatabaei and Ronald Dworkin and a few other philosophers of law and politics have criticized the terminology and suggested various other classifications in the context of Iranian political philosophy. According to Bernard Lewis:
"Even an appropriate vocabulary seemed to be lacking in western languages and writers on the subjects had recourse to such words as "revivalism," "fundamentalism" and "integrism." But most of these words have specifically Christian connotations, and their use to denote Islamic religious phenomena depends at best on a very loose analogy."
Some researchers, categorized Iranian thinkers into five classes:
- Anti-religious intellectuals
- Religious intellectuals
Traditionists who account for the majority of clerics keep themselves away from modernity and neither accept nor criticize it. Traditionalists believe in eternal wisdom and are critics of humanism and modernity. Traditionalists believe in a sort of religious pluralism which makes them different from Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are also against modernity. Contrary to traditionists, fundamentalists openly criticize modernity. Moreover fundamentalists believe that for reviving the religion in the modern era and for opposing modernity, they need to gain social and political power. This makes fundamentalists different from traditionists and traditionalists who are not interested in gaining political power.
As an example of different views on fundamentalism, one can refer to Ruhollah Khomeini who is considered as populist, fundamentalist and reformer by various observers. In July 2007 Iranian reformist president Mohammad Khatami said that Ruhollah Khomeini was the leading "reformist" of our time.
The birth of fundamentalist Islam in Iran is attributed to the early 20th century, almost a century after secular humanism and its associated art and science entered Iran. Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri and Navvab Safavi were among the pioneers of religious fundamentalism in Iran and today serve as the Islamic Republic’s foremost heroes and role models.
Iran was the first country in the post-World War II era in which political Islam was the rallying cry for a successful revolution, followed by the new state formally adopting political Islam as its ruling ideology. The grand alliance that led to the 1979 revolution abandoned the traditional clerical quietism, adopting a diverse ideological interpretation of Islam. The first three Islamic discourses were Khomeinism, Ali Shariati’s Islamic-left ideology, and Mehdi Bazargan’s liberal-democratic Islam. The fourth discourse was the socialist guerrilla groups of Islamic and secular variants, and the fifth was secular constitutionalism in socialist and nationalist forms.
Hassan Rahimpour Azghandi offers the following apologia for the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism:
- "It should be made clear that if fundamentalism or terrorism exist, they are a reaction to the colonial militarism of the West in the Islamic world, from the 18th century until today. European armies occupied all of North and South America and Africa, in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and divided them among themselves. Then they came to the Islamic world in North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. It is only natural that the Muslims act in accordance with their religious duty, just as you would defend your homes if they were occupied. Why do we call resistance 'terrorism'? When Hitler and the Fascists rolled Europe in blood and dust – would your forefathers be called terrorists if they conducted resistance?"
While some researchers refute explanations of "Islamic fundamentalism" as an anti-imperialist political force directed against Western dominance in the Islamic world, others, such as Moaddel, argue that Islam has been politicized only during the second half of the twentieth century as a discourse of opposition, not to Western domination in the state system, but to the ideas, practices, and arbitrary political interventions of a westernizing secularist political elite. This elite has established ideologically uniform, repressive states which have imposed a Western model and outlook in Muslim societies by coercive means. Islamism thus emerged as a competing narrative contending for state power against a secularist discourse. Its goal was to seize state power through an Islamization of all aspects of life in a Muslim society.
In May 2005, Ali Khamenei defined the reformist principle-ism (Osoulgaraiee eslah-talabaaneh) of his Islamic state in opposition to the perceived hostility of the West:
- "While adhering to and preserving our basic principles, we should try to constantly rectify and improve our methods. This is the meaning of real reformism. But U.S. officials define reformism as opposition to Islam and the Islamic system."
In January 2007, a new parliamentary faction announced its formation. The former Osulgarayan ("principle-ist") faction divided into two due to "lack of consensus" on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policies. The new faction was named "Faction of creative principle-ists" which is said to be critical of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's neo-principle-list policies and to reject conservatism on such matters related to the government. The main leaders of the faction are Emad Afroogh, Mohammad Khoshchehreh, Saeed Aboutaleb and MP Sobhani.
There is a lot that is unique about Iranian fundamentalism but it nonetheless must be seen as one of the Abrahamic revivalisms of the twentieth century. As in the course of the Persian Constitutional Revolution nearly a century earlier, the concept of justice was at the center of the ideological debates among the followers of the three Islamic orientations during and after the revolution. The conservatives (principle-ists) adhered to the traditional notion of Islamic justice, one which, much like the Aristotelian idea of justice, states that "equals should be treated alike, but unequals proportionately to their relevant differences, and all with impartiality." The radicals (neo-principle-ists), on the other hand, gave a messianic interpretation to the concept, one that promised equal distribution of societal resources to all—including the "unequals." And finally, those with a liberal orientation to Islam understood the notion of justice in terms of the French revolutionary slogan of egalité, i.e., the equality of all before the law.
While the principle-ists (conservatives) were generally suspicious of modern ideas and resistant to modern lifestyles at the time of the Iranian revolution, the Islamic radicals (neo-principle-ists) were receptive to many aspects of modernity and willing to collaborate with secular intellectuals and political activists.
Many of the so-called neo-principle-ists (neo-fundamentalists), like Christian fundamentalists, pull out a verse from the scriptures and give it a meaning quite contrary to its traditional commentary. Also, even while denouncing modernism as the "Great Satan", many principle-ists accept its foundations, especially science and technology. For traditionalists, there is beauty in nature which must be preserved and beauty in every aspect of traditional life, from chanting the Qur'an to the artisan's fashioning a bowl or everyday pot. Many principle-ists even seek a Qur'anic basis for modern man's domination and destruction of nature by referring to the injunction to 'dominate the earth' – misconstruing entirely the basic idea of vicegerency: that man is expected to be the perfect servant of God. An example of an environmental problem is the overpopulation of the earth. The Neo-fundamentalists's family policy is to increase the population dramatically. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for increasing Iran's population from 70 to 120 millions can be understood in the same line.
In Mehdi Mozaffan's chapter on a comparative study of Islamism in Algeria and Iran, he says,
- "I define Islamic fundamentalism or Islamism as a militant and anti-modernist movement ... not every militant Muslim is a fundamentalist. but an Islamic fundamentalist is necessarily a militant."
A major difference between fundamentalism in Iran and main stream Islamic fundamentalism is that the former has nothing to do with Salafism. According to Gary Legenhausen: "The term Islamic Fundamentalism is one that has been invented by Western journalists by analogy with Christian Fundamentalism. It is not a very apt term, but it has gained currency. In the Sunni world it is used for groups descended from the Salafiyyah movement, such as the Muslim Brotherhood." It is worth noting that the concept of "Salaf" (السلف) does not exist in Shia theology in contrast to Sunni Islam as well as Christianity (a similar concept referred to as "original Christianity"). Political Islam consists of a broad array of mass movements in the Muslim world, which share a conviction that political power is an essential instrument for constructing a God-fearing society. They believe that Muslims can fulfill their religious obligations only when public law sanctions and encourages pious behavior. To this end, the majority of these movements work to take control of state power, whether by propaganda, plebiscite, or putsch.
A look through several generations of clerics in seminaries shows significant differences in viewpoints and practical approaches. When young Ruhollah Khomeini urged his mentor Ayatullah Husain Borujerdi, to oppose the Shah more openly. Broujerdi rejected his idea. He believed in the "separation" of religion from politics, even though he was Khomeini's senior in rank. However just before his death Hossein Boroujerdi (d. 1961), expressed his opposition to the Shah’s plans for land reform and women’s enfranchisement. He also issued a fatwa for killing Ahmad Kasravi. Khomeini remained silent till his seniors Ayatollah Haeri or Ayatolla Boroujerdi's, were alive. Then he was promoted to the status of a Grand marja and started his activism and established his Islamic Republic eventually. Among Khomeini's students, there were notable clerics whose ideas were not compatible with their mentor. As examples of the prototypes of his students one can mention Morteza Motahhari, Mohammad Beheshti and Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi. Criticizing Mesbah Yazdi and Haghani school Beheshti said: "Controversial and provocative positions that are coupled with violence, in my opinion...will have the reverse effect. Such positions remind many individuals of the wielding of threats of excommunication that you have read about in history concerning the age of the Inquisition, the ideas of the Church, and the Middle Ages". Morteza Motahhari, the most notable student of Khomeini, was widely known as the main theoretician of Iranian revolution (next to Ali Shariati). While Mesbah Yazdi was an advocate of expelling secular University lecturers, Motahhari insisted that the philosophy of marxism or liberalism must be taught by a marxist and liberal respectively. Both Motahhari and Beheshti were assassinated by terrorist groups early after the revolution. Motahhari also introduced the concept of "dynamism of Islam".
After the triumph of the revolution in February 1979, and the subsequent liquidation of the liberal and secular-leftist groups, two principal ideological camps became dominant in Iranian politics, the "conservatives" (fundamentalists) and the "radicals" (neo-fundamentalists). The radicals' following of Khomeini of the revolution rather than his incumbency of the office of the Supreme Jurist (Vali-eFaqih) or his theocratic vision of the "Islamic Government." Today, Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi clearly rejects Khomeini's "Islamic Republic" and supports the idea of "Islamic government" where the votes of people has no value.
Contrary to Iranian traditionalists, neo-fundamentalists as well as Iranian liberals have been under the influence of western thinkers. The Islamic neo-fundamentalists have also borrowed from Western countercurrents of populism, fascism, anarchism, Jacobism, and Marxism without the welfare state. During 1990s, Akbar Ganji had discovered crucial links that connected the chain murders of Iran to the reigning neoconservative clergymen (Ali Fallahian, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejehei, Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi) who had issued the fatwas legitimizing assassinations of secular humanists and religious modernists. In May 1996, Akbar Ganji presented a lecture at Shiraz University entitled "Satan Was the First Fascist." He was charged with defaming the Islamic Republic and tried in a closed court. His defense was later published under the title of "Fascism is one of the Mortal Sins." (Kian, Number 40, February 1997.)
Another important issue is the concept of "insider-outsider" introduced by Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. Accordingly, in his administration outsiders have less rights compared to insiders and cannot have any administrative posts. He stated that "I mean, you [to his followers] must trust an insider as a member of your clique. We must consider as insiders those persons who are sympathetic towards our revolution, our state and Islam. The outsiders are the ones who are opposed to the principle of our state."
In another speech Ali Khamenei compared what he called "American fundamentalism" and "Islamic fundamentalism":
- "We can see that in the world today there are nations with constitutions going back 200 to 300 years. The governments of these nations, which occasionally protest against the Islamic Republic, firmly safeguard their own constitutions. They clutch firmly to safeguard centuries old constitutions to protect them from harm. [...] However, when it comes to us and as we show commitment to our constitution and values, they accuse us of fundamentalism or describe us as reactionaries. In other words, the American fundamentalism is viewed as a positive virtue, whereas Islamic fundamentalism – based on logic, wisdom, experience and desire for independence – is condemned as some sort of debasement. Of course, they no longer use that term fundamentalism to describe us, instead they refer to us as conservatives."
He also made a clear distinction between what he called "extremism" and "fundamentalism": " There may be a handful of extremists here and there, but all the elements serving in various departments of our country are fundamentalists in essence."
Iranian neoconservatives are against democracy, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and disparage the people and their views. In particular Mesbah Yazdi is an aggressive defender of the supreme leader's absolute power, and he has long held that democracy and elections are not compatible with Islam. He once stated that:
- "Democracy means if the people want something that is against God's will, then they should forget about God and religion ... Be careful not to be deceived. Accepting Islam is not compatible with democracy."
In contrast to neo-principle-ists, principle-ists accepts the ideas of democracy and UDHR. During his lifetime, Ayatollah Khomeini expressed support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; in Sahifeh Nour (Vol.2 Page 242), he states: "We would like to act according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We would like to be free. We would like independence." However, Iran adopted an "alternative" human rights declaration, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, in 1990 (one year after Khomeini's death).
There exists various viewpoints on practice of controversial Islamic criminal codes like stoning. Ayatollah Gholamreza Rezvani states that the Quran sanctions stoning unequivocally and since it is the word of God, it must be carried out in real life as if Rezvani is the Prophet on Earth tasked by God to carry forward this message. This is in contrast to principle-ist point of view. In December 2002, Hashemi Shahroudi, the principle-ist Head of Judiciary ordered a ban on the practice of stoning. In 2007, the Shahrudi directive, Mohammad Javad Larijani called stoning "a feature of Shari'a law," "original and respectable punishment" and claimed that "Mr. Shahrudi is not opposed to the principle of a...verdict that is based on Islamic Sharia." He also said:
- "We will never surrender Islam in the face of human rights concerns … During the adoption of these (human rights) laws, the world of Islam was in complete ignorance while liberals and secular parties formulated and imposed these laws onto the entire world ... We must elucidate punishment by stoning clearly to those who denounce it. We had a revolution so that Islamic laws would be implemented ... We will never give up Islam in the face of these challenges" (State-run news agency ILNA, 30 May 2007).
Fabrication of fake history and use of propaganda is common among neo-fundamentalist circles. A good example is spread of superstitions over and fabricating a fake history for Jamkaran mosque, a small ordinary mosque suddenly turned out to be the holiest place in Shia Islam. The issue has been harshly criticized even by conservative circles. Some of Iran's ayatollahs say the legend of Jamkaran is superstition. During Khatami's presidency, Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi claimed that an unnamed former CIA chief had visited Iran with a suitcase stuffed with dollars to pay opinion-formers. "What is dangerous is that agents of the enemy, the CIA, have infiltrated the government and the cultural services," he was quoted as saying. On top of its official budget for Iran, the CIA had given "hundreds of millions of dollars to our cultural officials and journalists," he added. "The former head of the CIA recently came here as a tourist with a suitcase full of dollars for our cultural centres and certain newspapers. He made contact with various newspaper chiefs and gave them dollars." Nasser Pourpirar for instance believes that a significant portion of Iranian history are baseless fabrications by Jewish orientalists and Zionists. The whole existence of Pre-Islamic Iran is no more than a Jewish conspiracy and the most important key for analyzing today’s world events is the analysis of ancient "Jewish genocide of Purim." Another neoconservative theorist, Mohammad Ali Ramin believes that contemporary western history (e.g. Holocaust) are all fabrications by Jews. He also claimed that Adolf Hitler was a Jew himself. M.A. Ramin, Hassan Abbasi, Abbas Salimi Namin and others have been giving speeches about Jewish conspiracy theory, Iranian and western history intensively all over the country since the establishment of Ahmadinejad government in 2005. Currently, Abadgaran described itself as a group of Islamic neo-principle-ist, have the control over current Iranian government. However it lost the 2006 city council election.
The problem with identity is at the heart of fundamentalism, no matter it is Islamic, Jewish or Christian. If people's religious identity becomes more prominent than the national identity, fundamentalism will rise. In other words, fundamentalism can be seen as "identity-ism." Many of the religious remarks that are made in Iran, especially from official platforms, basically rest on identity-oriented thinking and the inculcation of an identity known as a religious identity.
Under Ahmadinejad, neo-conservative forces are determined to make the Islamic Republic more Islamic than republican. Whether they will succeed is another matter. Power in Iran is a complicated matter, and various factions exist even among conservatives, who run the gamut from hard-liners to pragmatists. Some among Iran’s leadership would accept accommodation with the West in exchange for economic and strategic concessions, while others are content to accept isolation from the West. Others favor a "Chinese model," which in Iran would mean opening the economy to international investment while maintaining the clergy’s dominance. It is these complex internal forces that will decide the future of Iranian politics.
Circles, schools and organizations
Fadayan-e Islam was founded in 1946 as an Islamic fundamentalist organization. The founder of the group was Navab Safavi, a neo-fundamentalist cleric. The group's aim was to transform Iran into an "Islamic state." To achieve their objective, the group committed numerous terrorist acts. Notable among these was the 1946 assassination of Ahmad Kasravi, an intellectual who had criticized the Shia Islamic clergy. The group also assassinated two prime ministers (Ali Razmara and Hassan Ali Mansour, 1951 and 1965) and an ex-prime minister (Hazhir, 1949).
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK)
The MEK philosophy mixes Marxism and Islam. Formed in the 1960s, the organization was an attempt in bridging Islam and Marxism to offer a revolutionary brand of Islam. It was expelled from Iran after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and its primary support came from the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein starting in the late 1980s. The MEK conducted anti-Western attacks prior to the Revolution. Since then, it has conducted terrorist attacks against the interests of the clerical regime in Iran and abroad. The MEK advocates the overthrow of the Iranian regime and its replacement with the group’s own leadership.
During the 1970s, the MEK killed US military personnel and US civilians working on defense projects in Tehran and supported the takeover in 1979 of the US Embassy in Tehran. In 1981, the MEK detonated bombs in the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Premier’s office, killing some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including Chief Justice Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajai, and Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. Near the end of the 1980–1988 war with Iran, Baghdad armed the MEK with military equipment and sent it into action against Iranian forces. In 1991, the MEK assisted the Government of Iraq in suppressing the Shia and Kurdish uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north.
In April 1992, the MEK conducted near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and installations in 13 countries, demonstrating the group’s ability to mount large-scale operations overseas. MKO is recognized as a terrorist group by both US and EU. The MKO maintains fascistic behaviour with all those who do not share its views and positions and routinely attacks Iranian intellectuals and journalists abroad. For instance, MEK agents attacked Iranian journalist Alireza Nourizadeh and injured him seriously.
Haghani Circle is a neo-fundamentalist school of thought in Iran founded by a group of clerics based in the holy city of Qom and headed by Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, an influential cleric and theologian.
The school trains clerics with both a traditional and modern curriculum, including a secular education in science, medicine, politics, and Western/non-Islamic philosophy (the topics that are not taught in traditional schools). It was founded by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, Ayatollah Dr. Beheshti and Ayatollah Sadoughi.
Many famous theologians and influential figures in Iran's politics after the revolution were associated (as teacher or student) with the Haghani Circle or follows its ideology.
Combatant Clergy Association
The association is composed of right wing conservative elements of Iran’s political culture, including the nation’s foremost politicized clerics, the Friday prayer leaders in most of Iran’s metropolitan areas, the bazaar merchants, and the Supreme Leader. Not surprisingly, members of this faction support a continuation of the status quo, including strict limits on personal freedoms and the continued primacy of the clergy in the nation’s day-to-day governance. Important constituents of the Militant Clergy Society include the Islamic Coalition Society and the Coalition of Followers of the Line of the Imam.
The Combatant Clergy Association was the majority party in the 4th and 5th parliaments after the Iranian revolution. It was founded in 1977 by a group of clerics with intentions to use cultural approach to overthrow the Shah. Its founding members were Ali Khamenei, Motahhari, Beheshti, Bahonar, Rafsanjani and Mohammad Mofatteh and its current members include Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmad Jannati, Mahdavi Kani, Reza Akrami and Hassan Rohani.
As the foremost advocates of the Iranian status quo that has left millions disenfranchised, the Militant Clergy Society is exceedingly unpopular among rank-and-file Iranians.
Ansar e Hezbollah
Ansar-e-Hezbollah is a militant neo-fundamentalist group in Iran. Mojtaba Bigdeli is a spokesman for the Iranian Hezbollah. Human Rights Watch strongly condemned the brutal assault on students at Tehran University halls of residence in the early hours of Friday 9 July 1999 by members of the Ansar-e Hezbollah.
Basij is a military fundamentalist network established after the Iranian revolution. In July 1999, Ezzat Ebrahim-Nejad was shot dead in Tehran University dormitory by a member of Basij military force. The event initiated a huge demonstration. In 2001, a member of the Basij, Saeed Asgar attempted to assassinate Saeed Hajjarian a leading reformist and political advisor to reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. Asagar was arrested and sentenced to spend 15 years in jail, but was released after spending only a short term in prison. Human Rights Watch informs that the Basij belong to the "Parallel institutions" (nahad-e movazi), "the quasi-official organs of repression that have become increasingly open in crushing student protests, detaining activists, writers, and journalists in secret prisons, and threatening pro-democracy speakers and audiences at public events." Under the control of the Office of the Supreme Leader these groups set up arbitrary checkpoints around Tehran, uniformed police often refraining from directly confronting these plainclothes agents. "Illegal prisons, which are outside of the oversight of the National Prisons Office, are sites where political prisoners are abused, intimidated, and tortured with impunity." On 8 March 2004 the Basij issued a violent crackdown on the activists celebrating the International Women's Day in Tehran. On 13 November 2006, Tohid Ghaffarzadeh, a student at Sabzevar University was murdered by a Basij member at the University. The murderer reportedly said that what he did was according to his religious beliefs. Tohid Ghaffarzadeh was talking to his girlfriend when he was approached and stabbed with a knife by the Basij member.
Theories of state based on divine legitimacy
Various theories of state based on immediate divine legitimacy have been proposed over the years by Iranian clerics. One can distinguish four types of theocracies. Typology of the types of government adumbrated in Shiite jurisprudential sources can be summarized as follows (in chronological order):
- "Appointed Mandate of Jurisconsult" in Religious Matters (Shar’iat) Along with the Monarchic Mandate of Muslim Potentates in Secular Matters (Saltanat E Mashrou’eh)
- Proponents: Mohammad Bagher Majlesi (Allameh Majlesi), Mirza ye Ghomi, Seyed e Kashfi, Sheikh Fadl ollah Nouri, Ayatollah Abdolkarim Haeri Yazdi.
- "General Appointed Mandate of Jurissonsults" (Velayat E Entesabi Ye Ammeh)
- Proponents: Molla Ahmad Naraghi, Sheikh Mohammad Hassan Najafi (Saheb Javaher) Ayatollahs Husain Borujerdi, Golpayegani, Khomeini, (before the revolution)
- "General Appointed Mandate of the Council of the Sources of Imitation" (Velayat E Entesabi Ye Ammeh Ye Shora Ye Marje’eh Taghlid)
- "Absolute Appointed Mandate of Jurisconsult" (Velayat e Entesabi ye Motlaghe ye Faghihan)
- Proponent: Ayatollah Khomeini (after revolution)
Islamic republic versus Islamic administration
Since the election of pro-reform president Mohammad Khatami in 1997, there have been two basic approaches, two outlooks, toward the achievement of reform in Iran: "Reformists" within the regime (in-system reformers) essentially believe that the Constitution has the capacity—indeed, the positive potential—to lead the "Revolutionary" government of Iran toward "democracy." By contrast, secularists, who remain outside the regime, basically think that the Constitution contains impediments profound enough to block meaningful reform.
On the other hand, fundamentalists and in-system reformers on one side and neo-fundamentalists on the other side are struggling over "Khomeini’s Islamic Republic" versus "Mesbah’s Islamic administration." Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi and Ansar-e-Hezbollah call for a change in the Iranian constitution from a republic to an Islamic administration. They believe the institutions of the Islamic Republic, such as the Majlis (Iran's Parliament), are contradictory to Islamic government which is completely centered around Velayat-e Faqih and total obedience to him.
Ali Khamenei, himself, has remained silent on the issue of whether Iran should have an Islamic Republic or an Islamic Administration. However, he clearly rejected the supervision of Assembly of Experts on the institutions that are governed directly under his responsibility (e.g. Military forces, Judiciary system and IRIB).
Neo-fundamentalists believe that the supreme leader is holy and infallible and the role of people and elections are merely to discover the leader. However, the legitimacy of the leader comes from God and not the people. In January 2007, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who won the 2006 election for Assembly of Experts, clearly rejected this idea and emphasized on the fact that the leader and the cleric members of the Assembly of Experts may make wrong decisions and the legitimacy of the leader comes from the people not the God.
Beyond these theoretical debates, elements of the "Islamic Administration" are (in practice) slowly replacing those of the "Islamic Republic".
Exporting Islamic Revolution and Islamist diplomacy
Upon establishment of Islamic Republic, the two factions (conservatives and radicals) differed on foreign policy and cultural issues. The radicals (neo-cons) adamantly opposed any rapprochement with the United States and, to a lesser extent, other Western countries, while seeking to expand Iran’s relations with the socialist bloc countries. They advocated active support for Islamic and liberation movements, so called "export of the revolution," throughout the world. The conservatives favored a more cautious approach to foreign policy, with the ultimate aim of normalizing Iran’s economic relations with the rest of the world, so long as the West’s political and cultural influence on the country could be curbed.
According to Iranian scholar Ehsan Naraghi, anti-Western attitude among Iranian Islamists has its root in Marxism and Communism rather than Iranian Islam. Iran and the West had good relations with mutual respect after the Safavid era. However with the emergence of Communism in Iran, anti-Western attitudes were taken up by some extremists. As Naraqi states, anti-Western attitude in other parts of the Muslim world has a different root than the one in Iran.
After the end of the Iran–Iraq War in 1988 and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, pragmatists (under the leadership of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) sought to normalize Iran’s relations with other countries, particularly those in the region, by playing down the once-popular adventurist fantasy of "exporting the Islamic revolution" to other Muslim lands. After the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 elections and the defeat of pragmatists/reformists (under the leadership of Mohammad Khatami), the Neoconservatives who gained full control of both parliament and government for the first time since the Iranian Revolution again recalled the idea of exporting the revolution after years of silence.
Since the Iranian Revolution, the new Islamic Republic of Iran has pursued an Islamic ideological foreign policy that has included creation of Hezbollah, subsidies to Hamas, opposition to Israel and Zionist leaders, and aid to Iraq's Shiite political parties. Hamas leaders verified in 2008 that since Israel pulled out of the Gaza strip in 2005 they have sent their fighters to Iran to train in field tactics and weapons technology. In an interview in 2007, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Kassem told the Iranian Arabic-language TV station al-Qawthar that all military actions in Lebanon must be approved by the authorities in Tehran; in 2008 Iran issued a stamp commemorating a recently-killed Hezbollah leader.
Fundamentalism and political realism are diplomatically incompatible. It is believed that the most evident characteristic of diplomacy is flexibility. The reason Iran’s diplomacy has encountered many shortcomings and lost numerous opportunities provided by international or regional political developments is the country’s focus on fundamental values and neglect of national interests. Fundamentalism is always accompanied with idealism while diplomacy always emphasizes realities. Therefore, the model of realistic fundamentalism will not work in the diplomatic arena.
Muslim thinkers in the world generally believe in a sort of "religious internationalism." Even religious modernists in Iran have still some inclinations towards religious internationalism, and the concept of nation-state is not firmly established in their mind. These kinds of beliefs are mainly rooted in traditional thinking rather than postmodernism. There are however some religious intellectuals like Ahmad Zeidabadi who are against religious internationalism.
Meanwhile, Western countries have adopted various different strategies with respect to fundamentalists. The attitudes of these countries have been mainly driven by geopolitics and the oil market rather than religious extremism itself. According to Graham Fuller of the RAND Corporation and a former Vice-Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at CIA, "United States had no problem with Islam or even Islamic fundamentalism as such. [...] one of the closest American allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, is a fundamentalist state."
Also Maryam Rajavi, the leader of an Islamist-Marxist group, has been invited several times by EU parliament members to address the assembly. In 2004 Alejo Vidal Quadras, European Parliament’s first Vice President, met Maryam Rajavi whose group is listed as a terrorist group by EU and USA.
Mehdi Noorbaksh, a professor at the Center for International Studies, University of St. Thomas in Texas, believes that the perceived threat of Islamic fundamentalism to world peace and security is based on politically and ideologically motivated misinterpretation of the reformist nature of Islamic revival. The portrayal of Iran as a radical Islamic terrorist state by the US has strengthened the extremists and weakened democratic, reformists groups in Iran. According to Professor Noorbaksh, "The spread of democracy and the introduction of socio-political reforms in the Middle East, especially in Iran, will undermine US domination over the region."
One of the main clarion calls raised within the geography of events known as the Cultural Revolution was the call for seminary-university unity. The original idea was a reconciliation between science and religion. In other words the meaning of seminary-university unity was a resolution of the historical battle between science and religion. Resolving this battle is a scholarly endeavour, not a political and practical one. However after the revolution, since clerics came to rule over the country, the idea of seminary-university unity, which meant understanding between seminary teachers and academics, gradually turned into submission by academics to clerics and seminary teachers, and it lost its logical and scholarly meaning and took on a political and practical sense. Appointment of Abbasali Amid Zanjani as the only cleric president of University of Tehran in 27 December 2005 can be understood in the same line. Tehran University is the symbol of higher education in Iran. Abbasali Amid Zanjani hold no academic degree and was appointed by Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, the minister of Science, Research, and Technology in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cabinet.
There was a journal in 1980s, by the name of "University of Revolution" which used to include some material written by neofundamentalists. They wrote many articles to prove that science is not wild and without a homeland, that it is not the case that it recognises no geography, and that it is therefore possible for us to create "Islamic sciences."
In 2007, Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a well-known cleric, attacked the University people calling them the most indecent people. In April 2008, four leading clerics namely Abdollah Javadi Amoli, Ebrahim Amini , Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi and Mohammed Emami-Kashani criticized Iranian Universities, University students and Iranian Higher education system as being secular, non-Islamic, indecent and cheap.
Islamist art and literature
Both Iranian principle-ism and neo principle-ism are associated with their own art, cinema and literature. In cinema, the first attempts were perhaps made by Masoud Dehnamaki. Dehnamaki, a famous neo-principle-ist, made his first documentary film "Poverty and Prostitution" in 2002. His next documentary was "Which Blue, Which Red," a film about the rivalry between the Iranian capital’s two football teams, Esteqlal and Persepolis, and their fans. He is now making his debut feature-length film "The Outcasts". Iranian journalist turned documentary filmmaker Masud Dehnamaki was formerly the managing director and chief editor of the weeklies "Shalamcheh" and "Jebheh," which were closed by Tehran’s conservative Press Court. These journals were among the main neo-principle-ist publications. The rightist newsweekly "Shalamcheh" under the editorship of Masoud Dehnamaki, one of the strongest opponents of President Khatami and his policies, has been closed down by the press supervisory board of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, presumably for insulting or criticizing the late Grand Ayatollah Kho'i, who had called the "velayat-e faqih" position unislamic, prior to his passing away.
Perhaps the most influential neo-conservative newspaper during the 1990s and 2000s was Kayhan daily. Hossein Shariatmadari and Hossein Saffar Harandi (who later became a Minister of Culture) were the main editor and responsible chief of the newspaper. In 2006, the British ambassador to Tehran met Hossein Shariatmadari and acknowledged the role of Kayhan in Iran and the region.
To promote art and literature, Islamic Development Organization was founded by Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1991, Ali Khamenei revised the organization's structure and plans. The plan is to promote religious and moral ideas through art and literature. According to the Minister of Culture, Hossein Saffar Harandi, the funds for Qur'anic activities would increase by fourfold in the year 2007. "All of the ninth governments' cultural and artistic activities should conform to the Holy Book," he declared.
While promoting their own art and literature, principle-ists are against the development of art and literature that has no "valuable content." In late 1996, following a fatwa by Ali Khamenei stating that music education corrupts the minds of young children, many music schools were closed and music instruction to children under the age of 16 was banned by public establishments (although private instruction continued). Khamenei and his followers believe that "Nihilism and Beatle-ism" have ravaged Western youth. According to the renowned novelist and the first president of Iranian Association of Writers after the revolution, Simin Daneshvar, Islamic Republic has been generally hostile toward Iranian writers and intellectuals. This is contrary to the attitude of the Pahlavi regime, Daneshvar added in an interview with Etemaad Daily in 2007.
In 2007, Javad Shamghadri, artistic advisor to president Ahmadinejad, publicly stated that: "Like many other countries in the world, Iran too can get along without a film industry." "Only 20 percent of people go to the cinema, and their needs can be provided through the national radio and television network," he added.
In the early times of 1979 revolution Ayatollah Khomeini declared that what mattered was Islam and not the economy. In one of his comments, he dismissed the concerns of his first prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan, about the economy by simply noting that "Economics is for donkeys!" However Khomeini in many occasions advised his followers about justice and giving priority to the rights of the deprived and the oppressed members of the community.
"Association of the Lecturers of Qom's Seminaries," or ALQRS (Jame'eh-ye Modarresin-e Howzeh-ye 'Elmiyeh-ye Qom), published their authenticated version of Islamic economy in 1984. It was based on traditional interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence, which the ALQRS find compatible with the market system and neoclassical economics. They emphasize economic growth against social equity and declare the quest for profit as a legitimate Islamic motive. According to ALQRS, attaining "maximum welfare" in a neoclassical sense is the aim of an Islamic economic system. However, the system must establish the limits of individual rights. In accordance with this ideological-methodological manifesto of the ALQRS, in February 1984, the council for cultural revolution proposed a national curriculum for economics for all Iranian Universities.
The concept of "Islamic economics" appeared as a rainbow on the revolutionary horizon and disappeared soon after the revolutionary heat dissipated (the end of 1980s and after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini). It disappeared from Iranian political discourse for fifteen years. In the June 2005 presidential elections, neither the populist-fundamentalist winning candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nor any of his reformist or conservative opponents said a word about Islamic economy. However, after the establishment of Ahmadinejad's government, his neoconservative team opened the closed file of Islamic economy. For instance, Vice-President Parviz Davoudi said in 2006:
- "On the economic field, we are dutybound to implement an Islamic economy and not a capitalistic economy. [...] It is a false image to think that we will make equations and attitudes based on those in a capitalistic system".
Factional conflict dominated Iranian economic politics under the Ayatollah Khomeini from 1979 to 1989. The two principal factions were a statist-reformist group that favored state control of the economy and a conservative group that favored the private sector. Both factions claimed Khomeini's support, but by 1987, he clearly had sided with the statist-reformists because he believed state capitalism to be the best way of heading off any threat to Islam. Khomeini's death on 3 Jun 1989 left the factions without their source of legitimation.
Islamic republic and de-Iranianisation policy
Iranian identity versus religious identity
Since the establishment of Islamic Republic, principle-ists have initiated the policy of de-Iranianization of the Iran, by replacing the notion of Iranian Identity and Nationality with Moslem Identity, both inside and outside Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini has emphasized this goal in several of his speeches, for example, on Dec 1980 (as published in Kayhan):
- "Those who say that we want nationality, they are standing against Islam....We have no use for the nationalists. Moslems are useful for us. Islam is against nationality...."
- "These issues that exist among people that we are Iranian and what we need to do for Iran are not correct; these issues are not correct. This issue, which is perhaps being discussed everywhere, regarding paying attention to nation and nationality is nonsense in Islam and is against Islam. One of the things that the designers of Imperialism and their agents have promoted is the idea of nation and nationality."
Mehdi Bazargan, the first Prime minister of Islamic Republic, once said: "Imam [Khomeini] wants Iran for Islam and we want Islam for Iran." Due to the commitment to Pan-Islamism inherent in Iranian Islamic revolutionary ideology, the Islamic Republic's attitude toward Sunni Islam is positive.
At the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, one of the most-notorious clerics in Iran, Sadeq Khalkhali known as the hanging judge, who was renowned for his brutality and mass executions in post-revolutionary Iran, tried to destroy 2500-year-old Persepolis, and after that the mausoleum of Ferdowsi. He was stopped by the efforts of the locals.
Iranian government in several occasions constructed dams and rail roads in the vicinity of ancient archeological sites that date back to pre-Islamic era. In January 2007, the Minister of Energy, Parviz Fattah directly ordered the opening of the Sivand Dam. Referring to the critics, he said: "I will make a museum next to the dam with my own money!" Sivand dam project has been one of the most condemned projects in post-revolution Iran due to its potential to destroy Iranian archaeological sites. Some Iranians are furious about the construction of the dam and argue that there is no objective in the world worthy to justify the construction of a dam, so close to Pasargadae. Hossein Marashi, the Iranian Vice President for Cultural Heritage and Tourism said: "We can not sacrifice the dam for cultural and historical sites." Sivand Dam became operational in 2007. Ahmadinejad's government, however, refused to buy the detectors needed for monitoring humidity of the Pasargadae. Also "Karun-3 dam" was constructed during Rafsanjani's presidency which led to destruction of ancient archeological site in Izeh.
Defaming Cyrus the Great, Islamist negationist Sadeq Khalkhali wrote an article entitled "Kourosh-e Doroughin" (Impostor Cyrus) shortly after the revolution. In 2001, Nasser Pourpirar wrote two books entitled "Twelve centuries of silence" and "A bridge to past", claiming that the Sassanid empire and Parthian Empires never existed, and are the fabrications of Jewish and American orientalists. Abbas Salimi Namin attributed Persepolis to Russian civilization. Islamist negationists Abbas Salimi Namin and Purpirar were coworkers for the hardline "Kayhan Havaei" (a weekly review of the daily Keyhan in English) after the revolution. Namin, a computer engineer and former member of Haghani circle is a close ally of Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic. Ignored by Iranian scholars, such figures managed to enter and influence traditional clerical circles and the policy makers of the Islamic Republic. Interestingly several of these Islamist negationists were formerly associated with Marxist groups before acting as agents of Islamic Republic.
Ruling clerics sought to stamp out many traditions, like Nowruz, a celebration with some Zoroastrian links that stretches back thousands of years to the pre-Islamic era, to mark the arrival of spring. The celebration is considered by many here the most Iranian of holidays.
Several proposals have been made by conservatists to replace or shorten Norouz celebrations but rejected because of public protests. Ayatollah Khazali, a member of the powerful Guardians Council and the Experts Assembly for Leadership, has proposed that the celebration of Ghadir (Shiites commemorate these festivities as the day prophet Mohammad is recorded to have named disciple Ali to be his successor) should replace the traditional Iranian celebration of Norouz.
Ali Khamenei in many occasions attacked the Iranian fire festival Chahar Shanbeh Suri and also called for shortening Norouz, claiming that the holidays are seriously damaging Iranian economy. Following an order by Ali Khamenei the fire festival has been banned by the regime since it is of Zoroastrian origins and is not Islamic. However, due to internal opposition, the government had to step back.
Arabic vs Persian
The most detailed and explicit statement about Arabic was made by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in 1981 in an important Sermon linking the fate of Persian language directly to that of Persian nationality: "both shall vanish as soon as Islamic unity is attained".
The tradition of banning names dates to the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in the early 1980s, when Iran's conservative leaders sought to purge the country of both Western culture and its own Persian, pre-Islamic past. Fundamentalists consider it unfortunate that Iranians used to be Zoroastrians, or that the ancient Persian empire achieved its greatest triumphs before Islam's arrival. To that end, they compiled a long list of forbidden names that included Zoroastrians gods and goddesses, commanders of ancient Persian armies, and other such tainted, best-forgotten figures. Indeed, Arabic names, except for a handful of Sunni villains, were fine. Persian ones, despite originating from the language actually spoken in Iran, had to be checked against the official list. Along the way, other politically inconvenient realities were fought on the baby name terrain. Wishing to quell an uprising by ethnically Kurdish Iranians in the north, the government banned Kurdish names. Street names had changed from old Persian names to Arabic and Muslim names .This whole shift of the Iranian identity toward a more Islamic one created a kind of crisis.
Iranian society on the other hand, identify itself as Iranian. In Iran-Iraq war for example, all Iranians irrespective of their religions and ethnic groups defended the country. Abdolkarim Soroush, foremost Iranian religious intellectual, once suggested to adapt the religion to Iranian culture by organizing Ashura and other Islamic festivals according to Iranian calendar instead of Islamic calendar to avoid conflicts between Iranian identity and religion.
Principle-ists and Women issues
Principle-ists, irrespective of their genders, support a very strict life style for women in Iran. The women in the seventh Iranian parliament were against the bill on Iran joining the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the female reformists in the sixth parliament had fought for vigorously. The women in the seventh parliament have exhibited conservative, right wing tendencies, setting them apart from their counterparts in the preceding parliament. In July 2007, Ali Khamenei criticized Iranian women's rights activists and the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): "In our country ... some activist women, and some men, have been trying to play with Islamic rules in order to match international conventions related to women," Khamenei said. "This is wrong." However he is positive on reinterpreting Islamic law in a way that it is more favorable for women – but not by following Western conventions. Khamenei made these comments two days after an Iranian women's right activist Delaram Ali was sentenced to 34 months of jail and 10 lashes by Iran's judiciary. Iranian judiciary works under the responsibility of the Supreme Leader and is independent from the government.
Principle-ists in Iran forced Islamic dress on Iranian women soon after the revolution of 1979. Since then Iranian police, governed under the responsibility of the Supreme Leader, have continuously attacked women who do not adhere to the dress code. Fighting such women is considered "fighting morally corrupt people" by principle-ists. In 2007 a national crackdown was launched by the police in which thousands of women were warned and hundred were arrested. Violators of the dress code can be given lashes, fines and imprisonment. Sae'ed Mortazavi, Tehran's public prosecutor, made this clear when he told the Etemad newspaper: "These women who appear in public like decadent models endanger the security and dignity of young men". Mohammad Taqi Rahbar, a fundamentalist MP, agreed, saying, "Men see models in the streets and ignore their own wives at home. This weakens the pillars of family."
In October 2002, Ali Khamenei asked the Iranian women to avoid feminism and sexism in their campaigns for better female rights. "In the process of raising women's issues and solving their problems, feminist inclinations and sexism should be avoided," he told a group of female parliamentarians.
Like many other Grand Ayatollahs, Ali Khamenei believes that women should be wives and mothers. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has publicly stated: "The real value of a woman is measured by how much she makes the family environment for her husband and children like a paradise." In July 1997 Khamenei said that the idea of women’s equal participation in society was "negative, primitive and childish."
Fundamentalist scholars justify the different religious laws for men and women by referring to the biological and sociological differences between men and women. For example, regarding the inheritance law which states that women’s share of inheritance is half that of men, Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi quotes the Imam Ali ibn Musa Al-reza who reasons that at the time of marriage man has to pay something to woman and woman receives something, and that men are responsible for both their wives' and their own expenses but women have no responsibility thereof. Women, however, make up 27% of the Iranian labor force, and the percentage of all Iranian women who are economically active has more than doubled from 6.1% in 1986 to 13.7% in 2000.
In terms of health, life expectancy went up by eleven years between 1980 and 2000 for both Iranian men and women. With respect to family planning, "levels of childbearing have declined faster than in any other country," going from 5.6 births per woman in 1985 to 2.0 in 2000, a drop accomplished by a voluntary, but government-sponsored, birth control program. The fact that these changes have occurred within an Islamic legal regime suggests that formal legal status may not be a key factor determining women’s well-being.
Women in Iran are only allowed to sing in chorus. Also women are not allowed to attend Sport stadiums. In 2006 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, surprisingly, ordered the vice president to allocate half of the Azadi Soccer Stadium to women. Six Grand Ayatollahs and several MPs protested against Mr. Ahmadinejad's move, and finally the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered the president to reconsider his order and follow the clergy.
Tolerance and Civil rights
The issue of tolerance and violence has been subject to intense debates in Iran. A cleric and member of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, Hojjatoleslam Khorsand was cited by "Etemad daily" as saying that "in cultural issues, a policy of tolerance and laxity is not acceptable." Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, a member of the Assembly of Experts, said about Islam's enemies: "They presented principles such as tolerance and compromise as absolute values while violence was introduced as a non-value." Mesbah-Yazdi believes that "the taboo – that every act of violence is bad and every act of tolerance is good – must be broken." Opponents of violence – "even some of the elite" – have been "deceived and entrapped" by "foreign propaganda," he said. Mesbah-Yazdi believes that "The enemies of Islam must also feel the harshness and violence of Islam." He also stated that "The culture of tolerance and indulgence means the disarming of society of its defense mechanism."
Dividing Iranians into Insider and Outsider was first introduced by Ali Khamenei. "Kayhan", which is governed by Ali Khamenei, editorialized on 5 August 1999 that an Insider is "someone whose heart beats for Islam, the revolution and the Imam," while Outsiders are those who have "separated their path from the line of the Imam, the system, and the people who, by relying on citizens' rights, want to introduce themselves as equal partners."
Irreligious people in Islamic Republic of Iran are not recognized as citizens and do not enjoy any civil rights. While Jews, Christians and other minorities have the right to take part in University entrance exams and can become members of parliament or city councils, irreligious people are not granted even their basic rights. Most irreligious people, however, hide their beliefs and pretend to be Muslims. Non-believers – atheists under Islam – do not have "the right to life." Non believers such as those supporting communist ideologies have been executed purely for being non-believers. The charge against them has been made as "corrupters on earth." In an attempt to disguise the Islamic attitude to apostasy, some Muslims often quote the Koranic verse: "There shall be no compulsion in religion." For a Muslim wishing to leave Islam in Iran this is simply not true and is punishable by death. "Any newspaper or writer wanting to renounce the fundamental principles of Islam or questioning the vengeance law is an apostate and liable to the death penalty," Ali Khamenei told a gathering of several thousand troops in the northeastern town of Mashhad.
In one occasion, Persian daily "Neshat" published an article which called for abolishing the death penalty, claiming that the capital punishment is no cure for maladies afflicting modern society. In reaction to this article, conservative "Tehran Times Daily" stressed that writers of such articles must remember that the Iranian Muslim nation will not only never tolerate such follies but that the apostates will be given no opportunity to subvert the religion. Neshat's article drew severe criticism from the theologians and clerics, particularly the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who in clear words warned that apostate journalists will be liable to the death penalty, noted the article in the opinion column of the paper adding that the judiciary also promptly warned against any acts or words that undermine the pillars of the Islamic revolution.
In 2002, Ansar e Hezbollah, a hard-line group best known for disrupting reformist gatherings and beating up students, declared a "holy war" to rid Iran of reformers who promote Western democracy and challenge the country's Supreme Leader. Masoud Dehnamaki, an ideologue with the group, also said that Iranians who try to appease Iran's enemies such as the United States "should be stopped."
During Mohammd Khatami's presidency, minister Ataollah Mohajerani launched a tolerance policy ("Tasahol va Tasamoh"). This policy was criticized harshly by conservatives and ended in resignation of the minister.
while some conservatives like Emad Afrough support the idea of Civil society, some like Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi are opposed to the idea of civil rights for citizens. Emad Afrough stated: "If we do not actively seek cultural change, our national and ethnic cultures get destroyed. We must consciously choose to answer the questions confronting us. Today's question is civil society ... I believe we can easily reconstruct civil society here (in Iran) based on our own values and cultural characteristics. Civil society is a necessity, and the growing complexity of society requires it. Our historical past also supports it. In reality, in Iran, as in elsewhere in the Middle East, the only obstacle to civil society is the state." Mesbah Yazdi, however, stated: "It doesn’t matter what the people think. The people are ignorant sheep."
In February 2004 Parliament elections, the Council of Guardians, a council of twelve members, half of whom are appointed by Ali Khamenei, disqualified thousands of candidates, including many of the reformist members of the parliament and all the candidates of the Islamic Iran Participation Front party from running. It did not allow 80 members of the 6th Iranian parliament (including the deputy speaker) to run in the election. Apart from Ali Khamenei, many conservative theorists as Emad Afrough supported the decision of Guardian council and accused the reformist parliament members of "being liberal, secular and with no Iranian identity". Referring to 7th parliament members, Ali Meshkini said that the list of candidates had signed by Imam Mahdi: "...I have a special gratitude for Honorable Baqiyatullah (aj), whom when seven months ago during the Night of Power the Divine angels presented him with the list of the names and addresses of the members of the (new) parliament, His Eminency signed all of them...".
In June 2007, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was criticized by some Iranian parliament members over his remark about Christianity and Judaism. According to Arab News Agency, President Ahmadinejad stated: "In the world, there are deviations from the right path: Christianity and Judaism. Dollars have been devoted to the propagation of these deviations. There are also false claims that these [religions] will save mankind. But Islam is the only religion that will save mankind." Some members of the Iranian parliament criticized these remarks as being fuels to religious war. However Musa Ghorbani, a chairman of the parliament, strongly supported the president's remark, calling it "in accordance with the constitution". Also Hossein Noori Hamedani advocates fighting the Jews in order to prepare the ground and to hasten the advent of the Hidden Imam, the Messiah according to Shiite belief.
In 2007, Ali Khamenei claimed that "Today, homosexuality is a major problem in the western world. They [Western nations] however ignore it. But the reality is that homosexuality has become a serious challenge, pain and unsolvable problem for the intellectuals in the west." Khamenei, however did not mention any names of western intellectuals.
While Iran has been quick to condemn attacks on Shia mosques and Shia holy places all over the world, it has been intolerant toward other religions. For instance in 2006, authorities in the city of Qom arrested more than 1,000 followers of the mystical Sufi tradition of Islam. Iran's hard-line daily "Kayhan" on 14 February 2006 quoted senior clerics in Qom as saying that Sufism should be eradicated in the city, while the Reuters news agency reported that in September one of Iran's hard-line clerics, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Noori Hamedani, called for a clampdown on Sufis in Qom. In 2006, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a plan to suppress what he called "indecent religious associations that work under the cover of spirituality and Sufism". Morteza Agha-Tehrani, one of the closest disciples of Mesbah-Yazdi and moral advisor to President Ahmadinejad was the leader of a raid on Sufi mosques in Qom.
Iran does not allow a single Sunni mosque to be built in Tehran. Although President Mohammad Khatami promised during election times to build a Sunni mosque in Tehran, he refused to do so after taking office. After winning the election he was reminded of his promise, but he came up with the excuse that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had not agreed to the proposal. Shias make up roughly 30 percent of the Islamic world, with Sunnis and other branches making up the rest. In Iran, Shias constitute almost 90% of Iran's population
Although the Iranian government invests funds for the promotion and spreading of Islam, it does not tolerate active promotion of other religions by its believers. Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad were two Iranian women, both converts from Islam to Christianity, who were active in church activities and distributing Bibles. Both were arrested and kept in Evin prison in 2009.
Criticism of Islamist interpretation of Islam in Iran
Islamic scholarship in Iran has a long tradition of debate and critique. This tradition has come to pose a challenge to the constitutional order of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a number of seminary-trained scholars have applied their critical methods to basic issues of state legitimacy, in particular the state’s right to insist on interpretive closure. For example, Dr. Mehdi Ha’iri Yazdi, the son of the late Shaykh Abdolkarim Haeri, the founding member of the Qom Theology School, has written a book about criticism of velayat-e faqıh. The regime has responded with force, convening special clergy courts to silence and imprison scholars, in violation of seminary norms of scholarly debate. These conspicuous acts of discipline seem to have backfired, as each escalating punishment has generated new critics within.
In Iran, unlike most countries, epistemological debates have political implications. Because the Islamic Republic stakes its legitimacy on the scholarly authority of its jurist-ruler, the regime takes such debates quite seriously. Through the Special Clergy Court, the regime has tried to clamp down on relativism, calling it self-defeating. The dissident seminarians, too, have distanced themselves from relativism, calling themselves legitimate religious authorities. It is unclear how the dissidents will reconcile the two seminary norms of open debate and scholarly authority, or what political ramifications might follow from such a reconciliation. It is already clear, though, that the dissidents are creating an unprecedentedly rich documentary record of Islamic critique of the Islamic state.
Future of fundamentalism in Iran
Abdolkarim Soroush, advocate of Islamic pluralism, believes that fundamentalism in Iran will self-destruct as it is afflicted with an internal contradiction, which will shatter it from within. Similar ideas have been put forward by Iranian scholar Saeed Hajjarian. Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohsen Kadivar, Saeed Hajjarian and Seyyed Hossein Nasr are among most notable critics of fundamentalism in Iran. Today Iranian neofundamentalists are a very strong minority in Qom seminaries. However they enjoy support from two Grand Marjas, namely Nasser Makarem Shirazi and Hossein Noori Hamedani as well as direct support from supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei.
Iran as a victim of Islamic fundamentalism
In 1987, Saudi Arabia's fundamentalist regime attacked Iranian pilgrims who were doing a peaceful annual demonstration of Haj and killed some 275 people. 303 people were seriously injured. For years, Iranian pilgrims had tried to stage peaceful political demonstrations in the Muslim holy city of Mecca during the hajj. Iran sees the 1987 massacre of Iranian pilgrims as the first major attack by Sunni extremists like Osama bin Laden and the emerging Al-Qaeda on Shia Iranians. A few days before the massacre of Iranian pilgrims by Saudi police, USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing 290 civilians.
In March 2004 (Ashura), Al-Qaeda killed 40 Iranian pilgrims at the Shia holy places in Iraq. Many others were injured in the blasts. Ashura commemorates the killing of the revered Imam Hussein at the battle of Karbala in the seventh century AD. It is the event that gave birth to the Shia branch of Islam which predominates in Iran. Ashura is by far the most significant day in the Iranian religious calendar, and it is commemorated as a slaughter of innocents by traitors and tyrants.
Justifying the attack on Iran, Saddam Hussein accused Iranians of "murdering the second (Umar), third (Uthman), and fourth (Ali) Caliphs of Islam". In March 1988, Saddam Hussein killed about 20,000 Iranian soldiers immediately using nerve-gas agents. According to Iraqi documents, assistance in developing chemical weapons was obtained from firms in many countries, including the United States, West Germany, the United Kingdom, France and China. Iraq also targeted Iranian civilians with chemical weapons. Many thousands were killed in attacks on populations in villages and towns, as well as front-line hospitals. Many still suffer from the severe effects. In December 2006, Saddam Hussein said he would take responsibility "with honour" for any attacks on Iran using conventional or chemical weapons during the 1980–1988 war but he took issue with charges that he ordered attacks on Iraqis.
- Navvab Safavi
- Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri
- Ruhollah Khomeini (subject to controversies: initially populist/reformer)
- Ali Khamenei
- Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi
- Maryam Rajavi (leader of MKO, an Islamist-Marxist group)
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
- Hossein Noori Hamedani
- Naser Makarem Shirazi
Theorists and think tanks
- Amir Mohebbian (neo-principalist and founder of The Modern Thinkers Party of Islamic Iran)
- Mahdi HadaviTehrani  (neo-fundamentalist also an Islamic activist in human rights and interreligious dialogue)
- Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Ahmad Ahmadi (also involved in cultural revolution)
- Jalaleddin Farsi (also involved in cultural revolution)
- Mehdi Golshani (also involved in cultural revolution)
- Hossein Shariatmadari (neo-fundamentalist)
- Hassan Abbasi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Mohammad Javad Larijani (fundamentalist)
- Ali Akbar Velayati (fundamentalist)
- Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi Kani (the Secretary General of the Combatant Clergy Association)
- Hamid Mowlana (fundamentalist)
- Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Masoud Dehnamaki (neo-fundamentalist)
- Mohammad Ali Ramin (neo-fundamentalist)
- Sadegh Larijani (neo-fundamentalist)
- Dariush Forouhar (Minister of Labor)
- Saeed Hajjarian (Political scientist and advisor to Iranian president)
- Ahmad Tafazzoli (Prominent linguist)
- Ahmad Kasravi (Literary critic and linguist)
- Mohammad Ali Rajai (President of Iran)
- Mohammad Javad Bahonar (Prime minister of Iran)
- Mohammad Beheshti (Head of Judiciary of Iran)
- Shapour Bakhtiar (Prime minister of Iran)
- Amir-Abbas Hoveida (Prime minister of Iran)
- Ali Sayad Shirazi (Chief commander of Iranian Army)
- Zahra Kazemi (Notable journalist)
- Parvaneh Forouhar (member of Party of the Iranian Nation)
- Zahra Bani Ameri (An Iranian medical doctor)
Notable figuresFile:Mesbah temsah.jpg
- Sadegh Khalkhali (neo-fundamentalist)
- Reza Ostadi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Ahmad Jannati (neo-fundamentalist)
- Ahmad Khatami (neo-fundamentalist)
- Mohammad Yazdi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Ali Fallahian (neo-fundamentalist)
- Ruhollah Hosseinian (neo-fundamentalist)
- Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejehei (neo-fundamentalist)
- Mostafa Pourmohammadi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Abbasali Amid Zanjani (neo-fundamentalist)
- Mohammad Reza Bahonar (neo-fundamentalist)
- Hossein Saffar Harandi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Morteza Agha-Tehrani (fundamentalist)
- Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Fazel Lankarani (fundamentalist)
- Kamran Bagheri Lankarani (neo-fundamentalist)
- Parviz Fattah (neo-fundamentalist)
- Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani (fundamentalist)
- Ahmad Ahmadi (philosopher) (neo-fundamentalist)
- Mohsen Ghorourian (neo-fundamentalist)
- Shahabuddin Sadr (fundamentalist)
- Saeed Emami (neo-fundamentalist)
- Allah Karam (neo-fundamentalist)
- Mohammad Momen (fundamentalist)
- Mohammed Emami-Kashani (fundamentalist)
- Ali Meshkini (fundamentalist)
- Ayatollah Khoshvaght (neo-fundamentalist)
- Abbas Salimi Namin (neo-fundamentalist)
- Saeed Mortazavi (neo-fundamentalist)
- Gholamreza Rezvani (fundamentalist)
- Ahmad Reza Radan (fundamentalist and military commander)
- Hamid Rasaee (neo-fundamentalist)
- Members of the Council for Spreading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Thoughts
Timeline of political Islam in Iran
- 1909: Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri was hanged.
- 1946: Fadaeeyan-e Islam was founded; Ahmad Kasravi was killed in the court.
- 1970: Ruhollah Khomeini's lecture series on Velayat-e faqih.
- 1979: establishment of Islamic Republic; Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was founded.
- 1980: Cultural revolution started; Basij was founded.
- 1981: Mohammad Beheshti and many other high ranking politicians were killed in a terrorist attack.
- 1988: executions of Iranian political prisoners.
- 1996: Hovyiat TV series was screened by IRIB; Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa against music education.
- 1998: Dariush Forouhar and his wife were killed.
- 1999: Attack on Tehran University dormitories.
- 2000: Assassination of Saeed Hajjarian; Ali Khamenei wrote a letter to Iranian parliament and vetoed revision of Iranian press law.
- 2004: Guardian Council disqualified thousands of candidates, including 80 members of parliament for 7th parliamentary election.
- 2005: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as Iran's president; Abbas-Ali Amid Zanjani was appointed as the first cleric president of Tehran University.
- 2006: Several Grand Ayatollahs including Ali Khamenei issued fatwas for banning women of attending soccer stadiums.
- 2007: Crackdown on women activism; Moralization plan was launched by the police.
History of Islam in Iran Notable scholars
Salman the Persian • Shaikh Saduq
Shaikh Kulainy • Hakim al-Nishaburi
Tabari • Shaykh Tusi
Ghazali • Fakhr al-Din al-Razi
Avicenna • Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī
Rumi • Abdul-Qadir Gilani
Suhrawardi • Mulla Sadra
Sects Islamic Cities/Regions Culture Architecture Organizations
- History of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- Hovyiat TV series
- 1988 executions of Iranian prisoners
- Chain murders of Iran
- Cinema Rex Fire
- Iran's Cultural Revolution of 1980-1987
- Iran student riots, July 1999
- Religious intellectualism in Iran
- Religious traditionalism in Iran
- Liberalism in Iran
- Terrorism in Iran
References and further reading
Written by Principalists:
- Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, Philosophical Instructions (English translation by Muhammad Legenhausen & Azim Sarvdalir), Binghamton University & Brigham Young University, 1999, ISBN 1-883058-75-9.
- Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, Islamic Political Theory (Legislation) Vol. 1 (English translation by Mansoor Limba, Translation Unit, Cultural Affairs Department, The Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) World Assembly (ABWA), 2008.
- Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, Islamic Political Theory (Statecraft) Vol. 2 (English translation by Mansoor Limba, Translation Unit, Cultural Affairs Department, The Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) World Assembly (ABWA), 2008.
- Dr. Ahmad Vaezi, Shia Political Thought, Islamic Centre of England, 2004, ISBN 1-904934-01-3.
Written by others:
- Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution by Alastair Crooke , Pluto Press (17 February 2009) ISBN 0-745328-85-7.
- Iran’s Tortuous Path Toward Islamic Liberalism, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter 2001
- Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars (Perennial Philosophy Series) by Joseph Lumbard and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, World Wisdom (23 October 2003) ISBN 978-0941532600.
- Traditional Islam in the Modern World by Seyyed Hossein, Nasr Kegan Paul International(1995) ISBN 978-0710303325.
- Roots of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (Four Lectures) by Hamid Algar, Islamic Publications International, January 2001, ISBN 1-889999-26-1.
- Democracy, Justice, Fundamentalism and Religious Intellectualism, by Abdolkarim Soroush (2005)
- R. Scott Appleby, eds., Accounting for Fundamentalisms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 403–424.
- Islamic Fundamentalism, Edited by Abdel salam Sidahmed and Anoushiravan Ehteshami. Boulder, CO.
- Overcoming Tradition and Modernity: The Search for Islamic Authenticity, By ROBERT D. LEE. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8133-2798-9.
- The Just Ruler in Shi'ite Islam: The Comprehensive Authority of the Jurist in Imamite Jurisprudence By Abdulaziz Sachedina, Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-195119-15-0.
- The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali R. Nasr, W. W. Norton (5 August 2006) ISBN 0393062112
- Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty, by Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr, Oxford University Press, USA (15 June 2006) ISBN 0195189671
- The Islamic revival in Central Asia: a potent force or a misconception?, By Ghoncheh Tazmini, Central Asian Survey, Volume 20, Issue 1 March 2001 , pages 63 – 83.
- ^ M. Hope and J. Young, CrossCurrents:ISLAM AND ECOLOGY. Retrieved 28 January 2007.
- ^ Ali Asghar Seyyedabadi (2005) An interview with Abdulkarim Soroush: it was stated that: Democracy, Justice, Fundamentalism and Religious Intellectualism
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- ^ Lewis, Bernard(1993)Islam in history:ideas, people and events in the Middle East:398
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- ^ Global Politician – Core members of Iran's council of Economic Governance
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- ^ New Left Review – Ervand Abrahamian: Khomeini: Fundamentalist or Populist
- ^ خاتمي: امام خميني(ره)بزرگترين اصلاحطلب بودند
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- ^ Taipei Times – archives
- ^ Iran Judiciary Official Defends Execution By Stoning – RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY
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- ^ پاسخ روزنامه «جمهوري اسلامي» به توليت مسجد جمکران
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- ^ فصل فاصله – جوابیه آقای پورپیرار و پاسخ به آن
- ^ هيتلر و مادربزرگش يهودي بودند
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- ^ THE IRANIAN: Daryush Shayegan, Simon F. O'Li (Oliai)
- ^ a b c US has no better friend than Iran!: What to do with the MKO cult?
- ^ Mko Hooligans Attack Veteran Iranian Journalist
- ^ akhbare-rooz (iranian political Bulletin)
- ^ : KHATAMI Museum :
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- ^ Letter to Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei (Human Rights Watch, 13 July 1999)
- ^ hrw.org, Overview of human rights issues in Iran, 31 December 2004
- ^ Asian Centre for Human Rights
- ^ ادوار نيوز|توحید غفارزاده دانشجوی دانشگاه آزاد سبزوار به ضرب چاقوی یک دانشجوی عضو بسیج دانشجویی کشته شد
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- ^ Iran's Democracy Debate
- ^ Masoud Behnoud English Version: August 2005
- ^ Regime Change Iran
- ^ Regime Change Iran
- ^ a b Review of the Elections to the Assembly of Experts (ROOZ :: English)
- ^ a b خبرگان رهبری هم ممکن است اشتباه کنند (ROOZ)
- ^ انصار حزب الله:هاشمی در صدد استیضاح رهبری است!
- ^ رادیو زمانه | انديشه زمانه | ما و غرب | «بیاعتمادی موجود، مصنوعی است»
- ^ Military destiny and madness in Iran Arab Times 6 June 2006
- ^ Iran’s Influence in Iraq
- ^ Plan Floated to Divide Iraq Along Ethnic Lines See the talks about "The Shiite south is governed by the Shiite religious parties who enforce an Iranian-style Islamic law with militias." The Online Newshour with Jim Lehrer 24 October 2006
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- ^ Iran Daily – National – 28 August 2005
- ^ جنگ فرقه اي (ROOZ)
- ^ Abdolkarim Soroush :: عبدالکريم سروش
- ^ Maryam Rajavi, President – Elect of the Iranian Resistance – Alejo Vidal Quadras
- ^ Maryam Rajavi Freedom and democracy for Iran is best achieved by the Iranian people and their Resistance
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- ^ روزنامه همبستگی
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- ^ Iran News – Four-fold rise in Qur'anic funding in Iran
- ^ Beyond the Veil: Persian Traditional Music
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- ^ You've Come Only a Little Way, Baby – TIME
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- Dreams of Mesbah Yazdi (Rooz in Persian)
- Conservatism, totalitarianism and traditionalism in Iran (An interview with Javad Tabatabaei in Persian)
- Khomeini: Fundamentalist or Populist? (in English)
- Fundamentalism, Religious Nationalism, or Populism? (in English)
- A model for the Muslim world? Islam confronts Islam in Iran (in English)
- Iran's neo-conservatives (New Internationalist, Nov, 2004) (in English)
- Iranian neo-conservatives strive to cement control over key religious institution (in English)
- Iran's neo-conservatives poised to take charge of political agenda (in English)
- Iran's Conservative Revival (in English)
- The Iranian reform and its permutations: How fundamentalism gave birth to its opposite (in English)
- Ahmadinejad: A Dilemma For The Conservatives (in English)
- Expect the Unexpected: A Religious Democracy in Iran
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