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Grand Ayatollah Montazeri’s Letter to Marjas, Islamic Scholars and Seminaries

September 15, 2009 Ayatollah Montazeri, Official Letters, Recent Posts 8 Comments
Grand Ayatollah Montazeri’s Letter to Marjas, Islamic Scholars and Seminaries

Source: Mowjcamp
September 14, 2009

In a message to Marjas, Islamic scholars and seminaries, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri – a great Marja of the Shi’ites – stated that the recent behavior displayed by authorities is a deviation [of the Islamic tradition] and that he is embarrassed by the abuses launched against the people. He asks the Marjas to emulate the prophet of Islam and speak out against oppression, abuse and bid’ahs to amend the erroneous policies of the authorities, resolving the current legitimacy crisis once and for all.

His complete statement is as follows:


In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, and the Merciful,

According to the Prophet of God: “When a Bid’ah [1] occurs in my Ummah, the scholars’ knowledge will be known” (Al-Kaffi, Volume 1, Page 54).

Honorable Marjas and scholars of Qom, Najaf, Holy Mashad, Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, Shiraz and all other corners of the Islamic world:

With regards,

Concerning the abuses that we are witnessing every day and the illicit behavior that has been justified in the name of religion and Islamic jurisprudence: I herby find myself religiously responsible to solemnly remind you of the following, based on the danger that I feel and the gravity of [the verse] “remind them, [because] reminders will benefit the Faithful”.

1- We all know that our Revolution was one based on religious and moral values. Our goal in bearing the hardship of all those tragedies, struggles, exiles, imprisonments and tortures, was not to change the people in power and the formalities in some specific areas. Rather, the goal was to [establish] a government that was faithful to ethical beliefs and to clear, religious edicts on all levels. On the basis of that authority, faith, noble acts, justice and freedom from dictatorship and oppression were to turn into realities. In addition, the rights of different groups of people were supposed to be protected and abuse and oppression likewise eradicated. Consequently, our people were to feel comfortable, safe and proud in the eyes of other nations, like a true model of justice, dignity, decency and human values. The goal was not to simply change names and slogans while the same oppressions, deviations and abuses practiced by the previous regime continued in another form, under the labels of theocratic government and the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists [2].

Everyone knows that I am a defender of theocratic government and one of the founding fathers of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists, although not in its current form. Rather, the difference lies in the fact that I intended for people to choose the jurist and supervise his work. I have made a great deal of effort to ensure the realization of this facet both academically and in practice. However, I now feel ashamed before the attentive people of Iran because of the tyranny conducted under this very same banner. I find myself responsible before God and subject to His reproach for the spilled blood of our dear martyrs, for the abuses carried out on innocent people. Many individuals with prominent roles in the revolution have asked me via letter, e-mail, or in person: Is this the theocratic government that you were promising the people and, as its executive, is this the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists? The same one that we observe today? Because what we see now is the government of a military guardianship, not the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists.

2- The honorable Marjas and learned scholars know well that in the course of history, they themselves sheltered and protected people from abusive and oppressive governments. They were honored to stand against oppression and to defend the religious and civil rights of their people. On this path they tolerated great injury and deprivation. May God grant them the best of Islam.

Regretfully, after the victory of the Revolution, this bright past came under serious scrutiny because of the government’s deceitfulness. Although the clergy may not have had a role in this, their negligence in “Forbidding Evil” [3] aligned them with that dangerous shift as well. The threat became more serious as the concept of morality changed and the theory that the “end justifies the means” became fortified. Ultimately, the Revolution deviated from its path and its initial goals. I must regretfully assert that the spiritual and popular base of the clergy, the Marjas and, consequently, Islam and Sharia (traditionally promoted by and associated with the clergy), has been so severely damaged that it is unclear when and how it can be repaired.

The association of religion with scholars and religious experts – which is logical and accepted by Muslims – signifies that any damage to the clergy will inevitably impact Islam as a whole.

In these circumstances, the honorable Marjas and the Shi’ite clerics will have greater responsibilities. Besides partaking in their usual duties, which include availability and expertise, they must see to the added task of defending the dignity of the religion and cleansing from it the criminal acts performed by the government in its name. The recent behavior of the authorities is a clear example of bid’ah, because they have resorted to means which are opposed to the ideals of the Revolution, and, moreover, are performed under the banner of religion and Sharia’. bid’ah does not strictly refer to the legitimization and introduction of irreligious laws. It may also point to any illegitimate act executed in the name of religion and Sharia.

In verses 9 -71 of the Quran, we read the following: “Believers, whether men or women, must [act as] friends to one another; they should command decency and forbid wickedness ”[4] .
Based on the conjunction of alef and lam in the plural nouns of “Al-Mo’menoon” and “Al-Mo’menat” [5], all male and female believers have a responsibility [6] toward each other in the scope of “commanding decency and forbidding wickedness.” Thus, religious scholars have even greater responsibility and should not be silent. We see in the will of our master, the Commander of the Faithful [7]: “Abandoning the command to decency and allowing wickedness will definitely result in the rule of evil men; then you will pray but your prayers will not be answered” [8] (Nahj-Al-Balaghah, letter number 47).

3- Considering what I have said so far, let me remind you [of the following]:
Those incidents and atrocities that occurred after the presidential election, seen and heeded by the honourable Marjas and respectable scholars, should sound the alarm for them and for the clergy. Actions such as the violation of human rights, oppression, and so on – all of these indiscretions committed in the name of religion took place with the assent of a small group of subservient clerics who are in favor of the government. What followed was a peaceful objection involving numerous classes of people who were critical of recent events. They acted within their legal and religious rights, based on the 27th article of the constitution. Instead of wisely and positively acknowledging the voice of a people seeking justice and the restoration of their violated rights, the authorities labeled the multi-million strong masses as insurgents, anarchists, and foreign agents. They then proceeded with a clampdown of the utmost violence, beating defenseless men and women, detaining many, and creating some martyrs on the streets and others in their horrifying prisons.

Relying on their military and security forces, and by drawing firearms on defenseless people, the government has both martyred and imprisoned the innocent. It is very ironic that at the end of the day, the people were labeled as [armed] combatants when it was clear that the government itself created this crisis in the first place. It has directly endangered our institutions, yet brands the people as insurgents and those who established the system as anti-establishment.

During the clampdown, the government detained politicians, political activists and gifted citizens of the country, each of whom had devoted years of invaluable service to the Islamic Republic. Based on pre-determined plans and against all religious and legal regulations, the authorities began a plot against them by forcing false confessions and displaying them in unlawful, dishonest and theatrical trials. As a result, the entire world ridiculed the legal system of Islam. As a result, the entire world has ridiculed the legal system of Islam. Instead of imposing severe punishment on those who were actually responsible for atrocities, [the authorities] seem to be concerned with punishing the innocents. They handled the situation in the same way they did with those in charge of the serial murders [9]. They detain other ex-public servants and place under pressure the two respected presidential candidates, Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Hojatoleslam Karoubi while detaining their colleagues and co-workers [10]. They falsely accuse some of the honest and hardworking people in government-based media. They even use the holy medium of Friday Prayers to spread lies. The ultimate consequence of such trends is an even greater destruction of the nation’s belief in its clerics, in the Shi’ite faith and in our dear Islam.

It is in this situation that our Muslim nation will have certain expectations from the honorable Marjas, respected scholars, and this humble person. With the duty that the holy guidelines of Islam places on the shoulders of religious scholars, and in light of the historical and traditional responsibility of the clergy and Marjas, people are justified in these expectations. Everyone is asking: if these oppressions, violations of rights and bid’ah are against Islam, why are the respectable Marjas and religious scholars (the guardians of religion and Islam and its guidelines) not voicing their concerns against all ‘deviations’ in Islam? Why are they, who are the protectors of people’s rights and the rules of Islam (including the rule: “command decency and forbid wickedness”), not rapidly declaring their disapproval of all bid’ah? Are all of these oppressions, violations, and atrocities any less significant than Moavie’s soldiers taking anklets from the legs of the Jewish woman? (about which Imam Ali, may peace be upon him, announced: “if a Muslim male dies from the pain, he is justified in his death”). Certainly, the honorable Marjas and respected scholars are, in their hearts, sad and worried regarding all the sins committed in the name of religion. Some of them have acted upon this too. But is that enough, considering the fact that the reverent hadith [11] demands stronger condemnation?

4- The honorable and respected Marjas understand the power and influence of their words; they are well aware that the government needs their approval. This is why the authorities – at least for now – recognize and promote them, though very ostensibly so. The Marjas are also aware that the government takes advantage of their silence to its own benefit. So, is it advantageous to maintain silence on all the important issues such as dignity and respect for religion, concern for the rights of enormous classes of people, and the survival of religious belief among our youth? Is it worth upholding the silence when people could interpret, God forbid, the fact that the Marjas approve of and encourage all the aforementioned foulness?

To conclude, let me remind you that I have not yet lost the hope of reform. It seems to me that the great Marjas can implement a solution. A solution to help the Islamic Republic escape this crisis of legitimacy can be devised with their help and guidance, with the consultation of two respected presidential candidates as well as thoughtful, centrist, expert, candid and religious representatives from the establishment. Finally, let me also remind those in power to permanently – not temporarily – put aside their policies of hyperbole and false promise; to stop calling some friends and others enemies. They must not merely value people with hollow words; they must recognize them as the main owners of government.They must respect people’s votes and have their policies espouse this opinion. They must put Islam and the republic alongside true justice. It is not a disgrace to admit one’s mistakes; but to defy justice certainly is.

23 of Ramadhan-Al-Mobarak of 1430

Hossein Ali Montazeri-Holy Qom

[1] Deviation of the Islamic laws, or Bid’ah (بدعت): “An innovation in the religion, in imitation of the Sharia (prescribed Law), by which nearness to God is sought, [but] not […] supported by any authentic proof – neither in its foundations, nor in the manner in which it is performed.” [see (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bid‘ah#cite_note-3)

[2] ‏ولايت فقيه

[3] نهی عن المنکر : “Forbidding Evil” is an Islamic principle that orders followers to prohibit evil, usually by reminding others of what is reprehensible.

[4] والمومنون والمومنات بعضهم‏ ‏اولياء بعض ، يأمرون بالمعروف و ينهون عن المنكر : Translation of the Holy Quran, Surah 9- verse 71, by T.B.Irving

[5] alef and lam are the first two letters in the Arabic words المومنونand المومنات. They function as “the” in English.

[6] ولايت

[7] Ali ibn Abi-Talib, the first Imam of the Shi’ites and the fourth Caliph

[8] “لا تتركوا الامر بالمعروف‏ ‏والنهى عن المنكر فيولى عليكم شراركم ثم تدعون فلا‏ ‏يستجاب لكم ” Nahj-Al-Balaghah, letter number 47
[9] Reference to The Chain murders of Iran(قتلهای زنجیره ای) or Serial Murders were murders and disappearances in the 1990s, apparently orchestrated, of Iranian dissident intellectuals who had been critical of the Islamic Republic system in some way.
[10] Reference to the recent detainment of Morteza Alviri, Alireza Beheshti and others.
[11] Hadith (الحديث al-ḥadīth, pl. aḥadīth; lit. “Narrative”) are oral traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

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