Prisoner of two regimes

From the prison of the Shah to the prison of Khamenei


Prisoner of two regimes
by Mehdi Khalaji

In the very cold winter of 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, returned to Qom, the spiritual capital of the Shiite world, for the first time after his long exile. A huge crowd came out that day. As he made his way to the stage, passing through those who pressed together to see him, the ayatollah's mantle fell off. Once he had settled in his chair, he noticed how chilly he was. "I'm cold," he said. Within seconds, another mantle fell over his shoulders and wrapped him warm.

This mantle belonged to my father, Mohammad Taghi Khalaji. After my father draped his mantle over Ayatollah Khomeini's shoulders, he went to the podium and gave the introductory speech on behalf of the clerical establishment, as well as the people of Qom. I never saw my father with that mantle again.

Right now, my father is in solitary confinement in Evin prison in Tehran. He was arrested in his home in Qom on Jan. 12. On that day, he joined hundreds of Iranian citizens who have been arrested by the Iranian regime after the rigged election in June 2009. My family has been given no information -- either by the Special Court of Clerics or by the Ministry of Intelligence -- about any charges against my father. Furthermore, my father has not been allowed to contact us or hire a lawyer. The government's denial of his basic legal rights is not unusual; it is the typical treatment of political prisoners.

The son of a farmer, my father was born in June 1948 in the province of Isfahan. When he was 5 years old, he moved to Tehran, where his three brothers lived. In 1968, after graduating from high school and then Shokooh English Language Institute, he started to work as a bank accountant. Although he came from a conservative religious background, he was the first in his family to become a cleric. Under the influence of the rising religious fervor in Iran, and despite his family's discontent, he left his job in the bank and its good salary. In 1969, he moved to Qom with his fiancee -- my mother, Mohtaram -- and began to study in its seminary.

A revolutionary-minded young cleric, my father soon joined Qom's pro-Khomenei clique and proved himself to be an excellent orator with an innate talent for scholarship. As he was making stunning progress in his theological studies, he employed his rhetorical skills in the service of the revolutionary cause. He was a disciple of Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari and close to other founding fathers of the Islamic Republic.

For delivering speeches critical of the regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, he was arrested three times. The last time he was released, three month later in February 1979, the revolution had toppled the shah and established the foundations of a new government.

On Feb. 1, 1979, following the revolution's success, Khomeini returned to Iran from exile in Paris. When he returned to his hometown Qom a month later, the conventional wisdom, shared by my father, was that Khomeini would leave politics to the politicians and return to teaching theology. But the course of history proved everyone wrong.

Khomeini was looking to realize his dream of an Islamic government that applied his authority as the "ruling jurisprudent," or wilayet-e-faqih. Khomeini stayed in Qom for only a few months and, after suffering a heart attack, moved to Tehran. He governed the Islamic Republic from Iran's political capital for the rest of his life.

During Khomeini's time in Qom, my father became very close to this charismatic leader. Every day, he went to the home of Mohammad Yazdi, where Ayatollah Khomeini resided. Yazdi, now an ayatollah himself, served as the head of Iran's judicial system for ten years under its current leader, Ali Khamenei. Parts of our families have remained in touch to this day: My younger brother is married to one of Yazdi's close relatives.

But some of Khomeini's tactics eventually alienated my father. To consolidate power in the clergy, Khomeini convinced Iran's power-hungry clerics that they were the legitimate heirs of the Islamic Republic and deserved their own portion of the spoils of war against the shah's regime -- in other words, political power. Despite my father's loyalty to Khomeini and his ideals, he became disgusted by these clerics and kept his distance from them. He decided to return to the seminary, and limited his social activities.

Nonetheless, my father's views of the Islamic Republic remained naive and optimistic. He was hugely resistant to the criticism of government behavior from both the secular and religious strata of society. Unconsciously, he resisted the belief that the revolution for which he sacrificed his youth could possibly lead to human rights abuses, executions without trial, the imprisonment of the innocent, and the suppression of freedom of speech.

After 30 years of study under some of the most prominent clerics in the Shiite world, in subjects ranging from fiqh (jurisprudence) to Islamic philosophy, my father became a mujtahid -- an ayatollah who is forbidden from following another's religious authority and must fulfill his own religious duties based on his own personal understanding. He also taught Islamic philosophy and Shiite jurisprudence and educated hundreds of seminary students, several of whom later became prominent political figures.

My father was quiet and pious then and has remained so. He followed the example of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was designated as Khomeini's successor in 1985. After Khomeini ordered the execution without trial of approximately 4,000 political prisoners in 1988, Montazeri criticized him for issuing an order he considered contrary to Islam. For speaking out, Ayatollah Montazeri was stripped of his government position, and his family members and disciples were pressured by the regime to remain silent.

This moment was a turning point for revolutionary clerics like my father who were not contaminated by political and economic corruption. In one of his public speeches Montazeri, who was Khamenei's teacher before the revolution, stated that Khamenei lacks sufficient theological training to issue fatwas and that his government is therefore illegitimate according to both the Iranian Constitution and Shiite law. Following this speech, the regime raided Montazeri's house, confiscated his property, and exercised a tremendous pressure over his family and clerical circle, including my father. Nevertheless, my father remained quiet and continued to write religious commentaries on the Fourth Shiite Imam's prayer book (Sahifeh-ye Sajjadieh) and the speech of Fatima, the prophet Muhammad's daughter (Khotbeh-ye Zahra). He published several religious books and, when he was allowed, he delivered speeches in different cities in Iran without ever publicly criticizing the government.

My father was mostly isolated from politics and gradually became disappointed with them. However, the televised presidential debate between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi agitated him and motivated him to throw his support behind Mousavi.

During the unrest that followed last June's election, when government forces arrested and killed peaceful demonstrators, my father began to speak out. He watched the footage of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, after she was shot by a Basij militiaman during a June 20 protest, replayed on television. After that event, he began calling me at midnight in Tehran for several nights, telling me that he could no longer sleep. He did not revolt against the shah in order to establish a regime that beat up peaceful demonstrators and shot innocent people.

One of his first speeches was in the Dar-Alzahra mosque in north Tehran, where reformists, including former President Mohammad Khatami, were gathering. In his speech, my father reiterated that he would like the Islamic Republic to survive. However, if Iranian leaders claim that they are following the example of Islam, its prophet, and its imams, then according to Islam, he argued, they must have the people's consent to rule. He also criticized the Iranian regime for taking political prisoners, saying that the governments of the Prophet Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali insisted on the freedom of pacifist opposition. Therefore, they maintained neither an Evin prison, the famous prison in Tehran where the government still holds political detainees, nor a Kahrizak, the detention center where the government tortured and raped men and women for supporting Moussavi after the election.

We spoke after this speech. He was happy for the message that he had delivered and felt that he had done his religious duty. He considered that he and his compatriots were responsible before God for the revolution and therefore could not keep silent when human rights abuses were committed in the name of Islam. Despite receiving several warnings from the Intelligence Ministry, he continued to seize opportunities to speak out.

In his last speech, on the eve of Ashura in the residence of Ayatollah Yousef Sanei in Qom, my father asked that Iran's leaders repent to God for what they have done to the demonstrators and for suppressing the clerics who support the Islamic Republic but were merely constructively criticizing the current leaders' behavior. This speech came a few days after the death of Ayatollah Montazeri. While Tehran and Iran's other major cities were on fire after the rigged election, Qom was quiet until the passing of the dissident ayatollah. After hundreds of thousands of people gathered at Montazeri's funeral and used the opportunity to demonstrate against Khamenei and the regime, all the ceremonies around the country for Montazeri were banned by the government. In an attempt to prevent more damage to the government's legitimacy, the government waged a campaign against Ayatollah Sanei by shutting down his offices in different cities. My father was arrested a few days later.

By initiating a crackdown on peaceful protesters and suppressing the first generation of the Islamic Republic, the government has simultaneously discredited its Islamic legitimacy and undermined its revolutionary credentials. This regime has transformed my father from a man concerned with keeping Ayatollah Khomeini's shoulders warm into an enemy of the state. This is a revolution that eats its own children. It places its survival at risk.

Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on the domestic policy of Iran as well as the politics of Shiite groups in the Middle East.


Recently by Mehdi KhalajiCommentsDate
Waste of Dollars
Dec 13, 2011
Mohammad Taqi Khalaji
Jan 13, 2010
Defining moment
Dec 18, 2009
more from Mehdi Khalaji

Blind Rage

by divaneh on

To all those who believe Mr Khalaji is responsible for all IRI crimes: This blind rage is exactly what we need to avoid at any cost if we do not wish to fall in the same trap again. I despise any clergy, but it does not mean that I can level any unjust accusation against them just because they are clergies. I respect anyone who does not harm others and there is no evidence that this gentleman has ever had any role in any crime. And no, he has not been silent as evident by his arrest. I am surprised that his son who posted this article did not reply to your accusations but then I don't know if he felt that anyone was interested in the truth here.


As much as i hate to say this

by mahmoudg on

After what the Mullahs have done in the past 1400 years especially the last 30, you expect any one to shed any tear for any Mullah even one who has realized the error of his ways!!!!!  Until i see and hear a Mullah denounce Islam i will remain a skeptic.


Luck be a lady tonight!

by TheMrs on

Chera khodeto enghad aziat mikoni? Don't worry. If he is killed, he'll be a martyr and have 72 virgins.  Ghosseh nakhor, I'm sure he's enjoying the accomodations at Evin.

I sincerely hope that he will be released on bail, be appointed a lawyer and receive a fair the Hague.

For the sake of all Iranian people, may all political prisoners be freed. I hope I'll live to see the day criminal trials will send this molla and his friends back to Evin.


And one more thing...

by rpRoshan on

How was your father a "prisoner of two regimes?"

And by the way, when you write that "Khomeini ordered the execution without trial of approximately 4,000 political prisoners in 1988" are you trying to diminish the crimes of the IRI and your "Imam," because the actual figure is approximately 25,000 murdered without trials in the summer of 1988. But hey, what's an extra 20,000 murdered to further the cause of Allah? 


What a farce...

by rpRoshan on

Mr. Khaliji, your father is an anti-Iranian Islam-lover, who deserves to rot in prison. While thousands of Iranians in the past 30 years were being killed and tortured, your father buried his head in the Qomi sand and ate his chelo-kabob and doogh and didn't do a damn thing to publicize nor denounce the evil deeds of the very beast he helped bring to power.

I have not one ounce of mercy for your treasonous father. I actually hope he gets repeatedly tortured and executed so that he (and you) get to feel what so many Iranians have felt so often for 30 years. I only hope that more revolutionary "founding fathers" suffer the same miserable fate.

Good riddance to you and your ilk.

gitdoun ver.2.0

Khomeini's I.R.I = Hypocrisy

by gitdoun ver.2.0 on

khomeini in his declaration and writings would lambast the Shah for harassing, arresting and torturing clerics. It's note worthy to point out that khomeini's government continued the Shah's tradition of attacking clerics beginning with Marjaa Shariatmadari until present day Ayatullah Khalaji. This whole notion of clerics or ordinary people being able to fulfill the functions of divine prophets or the legatee of prophets was dissproven with the wilayat of abu bakr and omar 1,400 yrs ago. These two people saw Prophet Mohammad, prayed with him, ate with him, hugged him, memmorized quranic verses weeks if not days after Mohammad revealed it and went to battle with him. Who knows Islam better ??? Who knows God's religion better ??? Khomeini a cleric born 1,400 yrs after the birth of islam or Abu Bakr and Omar who were shoulder to shoulder with the prophet when islam was born?  if THEY Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman FAILED as heads of state and could not fulfill the function of prophethood-imammat then how can khomeini a faqhi succeed ???  Time is eroding and crumbling khomeini's ijtihaad of wilayat faqhi. No faqhi or sahabah can successfuly be head of state save those whom are divinely guided; such as the prophet's of bani israel and the ahlul-bayt of bani-ishmael. And in this era in when there is no divine guidance -democracy is the only way to go.

hamsade ghadimi

human rights campaign for clergy

by hamsade ghadimi on

mr. khalaji, i enjoyed your essay and hope that your father will be released soon.  i'm sure that his credentials will be an asset for him while he's incarcerated.  i'm wondering in his glorious speech where he "reiterated that he would like the islamic republic to survive", did he actually talk about the rapes in kahrizak?  at the very least your essay can be used to secure a political asylum in iraq where your father can once again practice theology and socialize with other enlightened exiled clerics including heirs of the "charismatic one" who took your father's mantle.  by the way, is mantle same as aba?



by shushtari on

but akhoonds should not exist in the first place disrespect to your father, but everyone should have the freedom to pray as they wish, and they don't need the 'guidance' of a mullah to lead them.

second, the 'islamic revolution' was nothing but a sham, and EVERYONE who has a decent heart and participated in that tragic event, is hitting themselves on the head for being so stupid.....and having a hand in the destruction of iran

we don't need qom, and we don't need akhooonds......simple as that....and rest assured that with the atrocities that the mullahs have committed over the past three decades, this is their last stand.....they will be wiped off the map of history in iran forever, very soon 


may God release his chains

by mannya2001 on

Obviously, there is no reason for the arrest, other than intimidation.  Hopefully, he will be released.  In the meantime Mr Mehdi Khalaji is doing the right thing by going public with this info.  because apparently those who stay quiet nd hope that the government will somehow show its mercy have been mistaken.

Keep the pressure, and he shall be released.

maziar 58


by maziar 58 on

lol  divaneh......

plus ezhdeha will eat her own kids.

maybe prison will make him a good banker in the new democratic IRAN.         Maziar


Did he expect his mantle back?

by divaneh on

No disrespect, but you know when you give something to an Akhond, you won’t get it back. As they say, if an Akhond gets on the back of a donkey, either the donkey has to die or the Akhond.

In case of Khomeini he was an extremely mean and materialistic person. We learn from Montazeri's memoir that before his exile, Khomeini did not pay his telephone and electricity bills. Once a Talabeh who had made a 1000 toomans by going round and begging people gave the money to his teacher Khomeini as it was customary. Later Montazeri saw the distraught Talabeh who told him that Khomeini had only given him 30 or 40 toomans of that money back.

I hope your dad gets released soon although I think he is safer than many other prisoners. Knife does not cut its own handle.


New Imam Hosseins

by darius on

Please read the following and bezaneed toye saretoon for new born Imam Hossein.He is being jaild after 30 yrs of" Modara" ba yazid.


In the very cold winter of 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the
founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, returned to Qom, the spiritual
capital of the Shiite world, for the first time after his long exile. A
huge crowd came out that day. As he made his way to the stage, passing
through those who pressed together to see him, the ayatollah's mantle
fell off. Once he had settled in his chair, he noticed how chilly he
was. "I'm cold," he said. Within seconds, another mantle fell over his
shoulders and wrapped him warm.

This mantle belonged to my father, Mohammad Taghi Khalaji. After my
father draped his mantle over Ayatollah Khomeini's shoulders, he went to
the podium and gave the introductory speech on behalf of the clerical
establishment, as well as the people of Qom. I never saw my father with
that mantle again."