What Montazeri said
January 20, 2000
Iran 's leading dissident cleric -- and one-time heir apparent to
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeiny -- believes the supreme leader should be accountable
to the people, the Guardian Council should not vet out election candidates,
and the president should have powers commensurate with his responsibilities
Mideast Mirror has obtained a transcript of the remarks made by Iran
's leading dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, which
caused a sensation when they were first reported by Western news media
on January 13, during the buildup to next month's crucial parliamentary
elections (see Mideast Mirror, January 13).
Montazeri's indictment of the absolute powers of the country's supreme
leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and of the abuses of the Guardian Council,
which has disqualified many reformist candidates supportive of President
Mohammad Khatami from contesting the February 18 parliamentary elections,
landed several Iranian newspapers in trouble last week when they quoted
some of his comments -- and were duly summoned to the conservative-controlled
Press Court for questioning.
Montazeri, who has been under house arrest in the religious center
of Qom since shortly after being deposed as designated successor to the
late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeiny, broke his years-long public silence by
faxing written answers to the Tehran correspondents of Reuters and The
Guardian to questions about the relationship between religion and state
in contemporary Iran .
He came out strongly against clerical interference in government,
whilst upholding the general idea of hands-off clerical oversight to ensure
that legislation and government policy remain in line with Islamic principles.
He also charged that Iran 's supreme leader, Khamenei, had overstepped
his bounds, and should -- in accordance with Islamic principles and the
Iranian Constitution -- be popularly elected, have less power, and be accountable
and open to pubic criticism for his actions.
And he suggested that Iran 's Islamic republican Constitution, of
which he was a leading author, should be changed to give the president,
Khatami, control over the military and security forces and more power commensurate
with the duties he is supposed to perform.
Montazeri's written interview was translated from the original Farsi
into Arabic by London-based Iranian analyst Ali Nouri-Zadeh and then into
English, more loosely, by Mideast Mirror.
Question: Twenty years have passed since the Islamic revolution, but
Iranian society has not yet reached a single interpretation of the form
the Islamic Republic should take. What is your view regarding the role
that the vali-e-faqih should aspire to in the Islamic Republic? What are
the attributes that the vali-e-faqih should have? How should the supreme
leader be chosen? By the Council of Experts [the 86-member body which elects,
supervises and can sack the supreme leader and can amend the constitution],
or by the citizens themselves?
Montazeri: In Islamic shari'a, is the legitimacy of the regime, and
the need to offer obedience to the ruler, achieved by the ruler being appointed
by God Almighty, or through election by the people in accordance with a
And is there a difference between the rule of the infallible prophets
and imams, peace be upon them, and the rule of others?
This is a religious debate which requires a broader opportunity to clarify.
But what is certain is that a just and stable regime of government is achieved
by the people electing and accepting such a regime.
1. After he declared his prophecy, the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon
him, did not proclaim himself a ruler. It was after 73 notables of Medina
offered him their allegiance during the pilgrimage at Mina that he prepared
to proclaim the popular governance of the Messenger, peace be upon him,
in Medina. At his request, those notables appointed people from among themselves
to be the link between the Prophet and them.
After arriving in Medina he concluded agreements with the Jews of Medina,
then after the conquest of Mecca the people of Mecca declared allegiance
Allegiance in that time was aimed at consolidating a system of governance
and represented a social contract between the people on the one hand and
the ruler in person on the other.
2. Although at various times the Prophet, peace be upon him, appointed
the Imam Ali Ibn Abi-Taleb, peace be upon him, as ruler in succession to
him, this was not achieved until after the death of Othman [bin-Affan,
the second Caliph of Islam], when all sectors of the people declared their
allegiance to the Imam Ali.
It is worth mentioning that allegiance remains valid so long as the
person it was given to has not lost the necessary qualifications to govern.
3. God's book and the sayings of the Prophet affirm that God commanded
the Moslems to consult amongst themselves. That indicates that the system
of government under Islam is a popular system.
4. According to the Constitution in Iran, governance is based on the
views of the people in all fields and at all levels. The ruling powers
and even the vali-e-faqih, are chosen by the people, and their responsibilities
are defined by law. Thus the Article 6 of the Constitution stipulates that
the affairs of the country under the Islamic Republic must be decided in
accordance with public opinion and through elections. Article 56 says that
absolute governance on earth is God's alone, and that God appointed human
beings as governors of their social fate. It affirms that no one can deprive
human beings of this God-given right or suborn them in the service of the
interests of one person or group, and that the people exercise this God-given
right in the manner specified in other articles of the Constitution.
5. Imam Khomeiny always used to speak, in his press interviews and speeches
in Paris and Iran, of the people and their opinions. He used to affirm
the need to abide by elections and by a republican and popular system.
He used to say: "The view of the people is the basis."
[correction/ed: The vote of the people is the basis - mizaan ray'e mardom
Imam Khomeiny knew full well that the people in this day and age are
politically aware, and that thanks to the development of the media which
has made the peoples of the world like one family, it is impossible to
continue ruling by force or by imposing authoritarian methods. No stable
system of government can be established unless it is popular.
6. In the draft Constitution that was drawn up by a number of people
on the instructions of Imam Khomeiny, there was no reference whatsoever
to vali-e-faqih. But during meetings of the Council of Experts, a number
of members, including myself and the late Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti,
insisted on the need for this concept, vali-e- faqih, to be included in
God's book and the sunna [the tradition of the Prophet Mohammad] stipulate
that a Moslem ruler must be just, capable and wise, and that Islam is concerned
with economic, political and social affairs. Therefore, a Moslem ruler
must be familiar with Islamic issues and must run the country in light
of them, and real familiarity can only be achieved by being fully conversant
in jurisprudence, interpretation, God's book, and the sunna of His prophet.
In other words, if it is decided that the affairs of any country are
to be run on the basis of an ideology or faith, it is natural that the
theorist of that ideology should have full supervision over the course
of administering the affairs of that country, so that officials do not
diverge from Islamic teachings.
7. The purpose of the concept of vali-e-faqih is for Islamic teachings
to be implemented, either directly or via the supervision of the executive
authority and the other authorities for which the Iranian Constitution
provides. In reality, vali-e-faqih means the faqih supervising the administration
of the country's affairs and ensuring, via the jurisprudents on the Guardian
Council, that the laws issued by parliament are of an Islamic nature.
The vali-e-faqih is elected by the people, his duties and powers are
specified in Article 110 of the Constitution, and the people's direct and
indirect verdict on him is based on his compliance with the Constitution
and the country's laws.
In any case, the vali-e-faqih has no right to exercise absolute power.
Article 107 states that the vali-e-faqih is equal to all citizens before
the law, and that he is not above the law and cannot interfere in all matters,
especially those outside his area of expertise like complex economic matters,
foreign policy, and international relations.
In short, the task of the vali-e-faqih in the Islamic Republic is only
to supervise the country's affairs in terms of compliance with Islamic
principles. Those entitled to assume that post must be specialized and
expert in Islamic matters, enjoy the qualities of justice, capability and
wisdom, and not be covetous or greedy. If more than one jurisprudent is
available in whom these qualities are found, the best and most senior should
8. Although some senior officials believe that the vali-e-faqih is appointed
by the infallible imams, I have disputed this theory in detail... It is
certain that the legitimacy of this post is acquired by popular election.
In reality, there is a social contract between the people and the vali-e-faqih,
and the Constitution was drafted on that basis. Accordingly, his term may
be limited and temporary, like that of the president or a member of parliament.
And given that the vali-e-faqih is accorded responsibility by the people,
he is not infallible. He must accept criticism and be responsible for his
9. The Constitution stipulates that the vali-e-faqih is elected by the
Council of Experts, whose members are in turn elected by the people. But
recent years have shown that this procedure has not been successful, and
that most citizens view this issue with suspicion and misgivings [for the
First, because the people of any region are obliged to vote for one
person who is nominated from outside that region for membership of the
Council of Experts, even though there may be many scholars within that
region. Thus it becomes a matter of appointment rather than election;
Second, because the determination of the religious rank of candidates
has been allocated to the Guardian Council, even though its members are
appointed by the vali-e-faqih himself. As a result, the vali-e-faqih is
appointed and kept in office in this manner, which is wrong.
Third, although there are many religious authorities, scholars and teachers
in the country, how can those responsible for appointing the vali-e-faqih
be of lesser rank than them in terms of scholarship and knowledge?
Fourth, why does the Council of Experts include just one special class,
i.e. clergymen, when the leader has to have other qualities in addition
to being a jurisprudent?
Given these impediments and problems, and despite intensive propaganda
campaigns, people are not eager to take part in elections to the Council
of Experts. It is therefore necessary, when the time comes to review the
Constitution, for there to be a reappraisal of that institution as well,
and for the people to start electing the vali-e-faqih directly from amongst
the known jurisprudents who have the necessary qualities to assume that
1. Because of his expertise in jurisprudence and Islamic matters, the
direct concerns of the vali-e-faqih are confined only to supervising the
administration of the country to ensure it is in accordance with Islamic
principles, and ensuring via the Guardian Council that the laws passed
by parliament are of an Islamic nature.
But the amendments made to Article 110 of the Constitution spell out
the tasks and powers of the vali-e-faqih in detail. That led to all powers
coming under his control, and to the government being stripped of responsibility
for implementing the Constitution and managing the country's domestic and
foreign policies. This is one of the main problems of the Constitution.
In this context, it is necessary for me to point to an important issue,
though some will be troubled by it. When I was head of the Council of Experts
and I was involved in every stage of the preparation of the Constitution,
I regret to say that despite the fact that the members of the council were
scholars and men of ideas, nevertheless:
(a) They did not have experience and expertise in drafting laws;
(b) The Islamic revolution had triumphed recently, and the injustices
of the previous regime were fresh in peoples minds, so everyone feared
the emergence of a tyrannical executive authority as in the past. Meanwhile,
given the adoration everyone had for Imam Khomeiny, the members of the
Council of Experts tried to curtail the powers of the executive authority
as far as possible and reduce it to an ineffective body, and to place all
powers under the control of the leader and guide. That was a proper and
appropriate measure to take at the time, but no one under the circumstances
prevailing then considered the consequences and contradictions that might
ensue from translating those ideas into practice.
During the reappraisal of the Constitution which accompanied the Imam's
death, the Council of Experts augmented the powers of the leader, placing
at his disposal the tasks of appointing the chiefs of police and security,
regulating relations between the three authorities, and appointing the
head of the broadcasting and television authority.
Article 113 of the Constitution stipulates that the president of the
republic is responsible for implementing the Constitution and heading the
executive authority, yet the armed forces and police and security forces
are not under his control!! Moreover, the legislative and judicial authorities
are not in harmony with the president of the republic.
Article 121 of the Constitution stipulates that the president must take
an oath to uphold the Constitution, support that which is right, promote
justice, protect the freedom and inviolability of citizens, back the people's
rights, and do his utmost to safeguard the country's borders and its political,
economic and cultural independence.
How can the president of the republic perform such functions when there
are no forces under his control?
All the dreams and hopes of society are turned on him, and he receives
a flood of letters, petitions and complaints to which he is answerable.
Yet the armed forces and all the other agencies are under the command of
the [supreme] leader, who considers himself above the law and unanswerable.
I am not speaking about the current president of the republic, but of
the institution of the presidency on which the current Constitution places
great responsibilities while it is denied executive and media power!! In
any case, a solution must be found to this important problem.
The political principles of the Constitution are not on par with the
immutable teachings of God. The country's political laws are based on the
majority view of the people. Now, over 20 years after the first set of
laws was drafted and over 10 years after the new laws were prepared, most
of the previous views have remained unchanged while the previous generation
does not, in reality, represent the forthcoming generations.
In any case, politics are subject to constant development. One cannot
rely on the political ideas of the past as the pivot of the life of future
generations. As the Imam, may God have mercy on him, said in the speech
he gave at Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in Tehran immediately after his return
from Paris: the fate of every generation is determined by that generation
2. The best means of overcoming these problems, should circumstances
arise in which the Constitution can be amended, is to avoid placing all
these powers in the hands of one individual, and to untangle the existing
jumble between the executive, legislative and judicial authorities, so
that each can have its independent powers in accordance with the duties
vested in it, and exercise control over the forces that are appropriate
to its functions without interfering in the work of the others.
The people elect the members of parliament and the president directly
by voting. As for selecting religious leaders, citizens choose, purely
of their own accord, one or more individuals as sources of emulation in
religious matters, opting for the most erudite and knowledgeable of jurisprudents.
It would be best for the following procedures to be followed:
First, for a number of jurisprudents to be chosen who have the necessary
qualities for membership of the Guardian Council, in order to ensure that
the laws passed by parliament are consistent with Islamic teachings.
Secondly, for them to choose a number of jurisprudents who have the
necessary qualities to head the judiciary, one of whom would then be elected
for a limited period by Iranian judges and lawyers in their professional
Thirdly, to appoint one of their number, for a limited number of years,
to generally supervise the course of developments in the country in terms
of their compatibility with Islamic laws. This person would formally be
the country's vali-e-faqih.
In this regard, it would be best if the religious authorities called
on three well-known religious scholars from each major city to consult
with them in order to formally appoint the vali-e-faqih. It might be best
to nominate a number of candidates, one of whom would be appointed for
a specified number of years via a general popular referendum -- while senior
religious authorities and the people would have the right to monitor the
actions and behavior of the vali-e- faqih.
On that basis, the ruling regime would remain under religious authority
in terms of its compliance with Islamic teachings. That would bring an
end to the contradiction between the religious authority and the vali-e-faqih,
and turn the Shiite marja'aiya into a legal entity as well as retaining
its traditional nature.
Islam does not oppose the idea of separation of powers or of decentralization,
because the accumulation of power in the hands of someone who is not infallible
and is prone to making mistakes is incompatible with reason and wisdom.
Question: After the success of the Islamic revolution, the clergy were
given every opportunity to become prominent in society and in the institutions
of government in Iran . Now that the regime has become stable, what is
the right role that clerics should play? Should they have a strong presence
in the organizational structure of the ruling regime, whether in the legislature,
executive or judiciary? Or should they perform their traditional role as
government advisors and suffice with moral and spiritual supervision and
monitoring? Having tried directly controlling the centers of power in recent
years, do you think the traditional role of the religious scholars is threatened
Montazeri: The main and principal role of men of religion is to provide
intellectual and moral guidance to the people and clarification of the
teachings of Islamic shari'a -- to attempt to guide society towards moral
rectitude and to promote social justice. They [should] intervene in affairs
of government when necessity requires. If officials in the regime do their
work properly and apply the law and Islamic shari'a, there should be no
need for the clerics to intervene.
It is worth mentioning that the clerics who had no experience in [public]
administration and the affairs of government did not achieve success in
the posts which they occupied after the victory of the revolution. Lack
of experience and other reasons, which I will refrain from mentioning now,
led to the weakening of the moral stature of the clergy among the citizens
to a great extent.
You were among the authors of the Constitution. Do you believe its clauses
have been implemented? If not, in what areas have the intentions of those
who drafted the Constitution not been fulfilled? For example, in the past
you criticized the Guardian Council for not abiding by its oversight role
and disqualifying from elections candidates affiliated to the reform movement.
Can you provide further clarification of this issue or similar matters?
Montazeri: Although the late leader of the revolution affirmed after
the end of the [1980-1988] war [with Iraq] the need for the text of the
Constitution to be implemented and for no unlawful practices to be committed,
regrettably his advice was not followed after his death.
The right of oversight which the Guardian Council uses to reject the
candidacy of advocates of reform or opponents of the regime is a right
which conflicts with the text of the Constitution. The formation of the
special court for clerics is also at variance with the Constitution.
There are other matters too which all conflict with the Constitution.
It appears that most articles of the third chapter of the Constitution,
which deals with the rights of the people, have not been implemented yet.
For example, the articles relating to citizens' reputations and the
preservation of their property, lives and rights, and also to the publication
of newspapers, freedom of expression, the establishment of political parties
and societies, and the holding of meetings -- these are embodied in the
Constitution and society has not seen them so far.
Regarding the Guardian Council's supervision of elections, which is
stipulated in Article 99 of the Constitution, I recall that when I was
head of the Council of Experts the aim of approving this article was to
avoid a repetition of the bitter experience of the elections that used
to be held during the previous era, when the regime used to intervene to
appoint its candidates who would win in pro forma elections. The Council
of Experts approved this article to prevent any intervention by officials
in future. Thus the aim of that was to enable elections to be conducted
in total freedom and to prevent intervention in them, not for this article
of the Constitution to be exploited to reject or accept candidates.
Iran belongs to all its people, virtually all of whom participated in
the revolution and have the country's fate at heart. It is this unity,
solidarity and harmony which led to the victory of the revolution. But
now, regrettably, some have been overcome by a monopolistic and hegemonic
spirit. They strive to expel from the scene honorable elements who are
committed to Islam and the revolution, on the pretext of defending Islam.
Religious scholars say that shoura [consultation] is the basis of the
Islamic republican system, but the word shoura has two different interpretations.
Some say shoura is implemented by civic institutions like the parliament
and the presidency when they consult scholars and jurisprudents. Others
believe that even the vali-e-faqih, i.e. the Islamic ruler, must consult
the people. The question is, which of these two interpretations is closer
to the truth?
Montazeri: The second interpretation is correct. All officials, even
the vali-e-faqih, must consult with specialists before making their decisions.
Shoura in Islam is not just a norm and a moral issue, but a religious duty.
In the Koran, God commands the Prophet of Islam to consult with the faithful.
Shoura is a prominent attribute of the faithful. In the Koran, God commanded
them to consult among themselves.
Can the leader violate laws, or must he abide by the law like other
Montazeri: Article 107 of the Constitution stipulates that there is
no difference between the leader and all other citizens before the law.
Thus the vali-e-faqih is not above the law. And Article 110 of the Constitution
specified clearly what the leader's tasks are, and that his election by
the people happens on the basis of his compliance with the Constitution.
What circumstances do you live in under the house arrest imposed on
Montazeri: I have always been interested in reading books and scholarly
works, and I thank God for the opportunity He has given me. I am regretful
because Islamic society refuses to listen to different ideas and beliefs,
because children of the revolution are thrown into jail every day, and
because Islam, the revolution, and the late leader have been turned into
means exploited by some for their own purposes.
I have said repeatedly that I seek no post, but my religious duty obliges
me to say the truth and to defend the people and the revolution. I will
not shirk from defending the legitimate rights and freedoms of the people.
I am not dismayed about the house arrest imposed on me, but I am pained
and saddened when I see members of martyrs' families and pioneers of the
struggle subjected to torture because of their support for me.
Do you know when your house arrest will be lifted? If that happens,
what role will you aspire to in future?
Montazeri: I do not think at all about having my house arrest lifted,
but I do think about the duty I should perform. I am now under house arrest,
so I do my religious duty, I read books, I reply to the questions directed
at me, and I read newspapers and magazines. If my house arrest is lifted
one day, then I will take the decision appropriate to the time and circumstances.