Aghajari's Trial is Prosecution of Shi'a Semi-Protestantism!


The attacks on Hashem Aghajari, the high ranking member of mojAhedine enghelAbe eslAmi (MEE), may seem like another factional fight in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Iranian secular opposition has not seen that much significance in the arrest and trial of Aghajari, even though some members of Iranian clergy have gone as far as calling Aghajari the Salman Rushdie of Iran, and Ayatollah Meshkini, the main thinker of Islamic Republic, has called for death penalty against Aghajari. 


The allegations against Aghajari seem so irrelevant to the nonreligious mind that many wonder why he is even arrested by IRI.  Even outside Iran, people closely follow the actions of Ayatollah Montazeri and Taheri, but do not see much to ponder on in the case of Aghajari, whereas in reality, both Montazeri and Taheri are trying to save the Shi'a clergy from its collapse, following the identification of Shi'a clergy with the Islamic Republic, but Aghajari's issue is not about saving the Shi'a clergy!


The prosecution of Aghajari is one of the most important events in the history of Shiism in Iran.  It is as important as the Baha'i and Khomeini movements of the past.  If Baha'i movement wanted to make prophets and Christ out of the Shi'a clergy, and if Khomeini movement wanted to raise the status of Shi'a clergy to that of Imams and the Pope, Aghajari's call is to bring down the clergy, from the heavens back to Earth, to the level of a layman. 


In a way, what Aghajari is stating is very similar to what Luther called for, in the 15th Century Europe, with regards to the Catholic Church, when he questioned the need for Catholic clergy as the intermediary of people and God, and spoke for direct contact of the individuals with the Christian God, which basically equated the clergy with the layman.


Luther, just like Aghajari, was a dogmatic religious man himself, who attacked Copernicus, science, and rationalism even more than his Catholic counterparts.   If Rajavi and MKO in 1981 were like the Munzer of Shiism, Aghajari and MEE of today are more like the Luther of Shiism.  I would have felt not much different to live under the rule of radical Munzer, or the fanatic Luther,  than the Pope himself.  In fact, when Luther heard of Copernicusís Heliocentric Theory, he strongly opposed the Copernican Theory, on biblical basis, and in contrast to Catholic Church, he was *always* against any rational discussions of religion, and demanded the acceptance of Christianity solely on the basis of faith, and not on the basis of rational thought.


What caused the huge Protestant movement was not Munzer or Luther being less dogmatic or them contradicting religion.  It was rather their putting a question mark on any need for the clergy which gained them the wrath of the Catholic Church.  Protestants introduced a doctrine which practically would make the whole Catholic hierarchy of clergy and the Pope redundant and unnecessary. 


Today, we are witnessing something very similar in Iran with the rise of a new Shi'a semi-Protestant reformation, which is challenging the necessity of the clergy, although the ones like Aghajari, representing this trend, are even more of a religious zealot than their counterpart.  When it comes to their approach towards liberalism, science, and rational thought, the same way as Luther, they are closed-minded and fanatic, although they *are* questioning the very existence of Shi'a clergy.


Ayatollah Meshkini in a recent speech, in response to this challenge, considered the ayatollahs of Shi'a as "masoom", which is the status enjoyed by prophet and 12 imams in Shi'a.  In the other extreme, Aghajari sees the Shi'a Clergy as not much different from religious layman.  The main body of Iranian Shi'a clergy traditionally had avoided such a juxtaposition until Khomeini, by taking a middle road.  Khomeini tilted the scale to the former position by advocating velAyate faghih and now the reaction to it in the form of semi-Protestant challenge by the likes of Aghajari and MEE. 


The Shi'a clergy even at the zenith of their power, at the time of Shah Soltan Hossein of Safavids, tried to stay clear of making themselves to be responsible for the political decisions, although their fatwas to rape the Sunni Afghan women were the cause of the invasion of Mahmoud Afghan and the collapse of the Safavid Iran.  In other words, the clergy enjoyed power, while the responsibility for the mistakes would befall the kings of Iran, whether it was during the Safvid era, or the Qajar's time.


This time around, after the 1979 Revolution, the clergy holding the sole power in Iran, is facing the issues that all theocracies, whether European Papacy or Ottoman KhelAfat had faced.  They cannot shrug away from responsibility when the Caspian sea portion of Iran falls from 50% to 20%.  Thus the demand for separation of state and religion and the limitations of the power of clergy. 


Sunni clergy in the Muslim world, just like the Orthodox clergy in the Christian world, always were part of the power in the countries they reigned, but were not sitting at the top of a theocracy.  So countries with Orthodox in majority never experienced a serious protestant movement.  In contrast, Catholic Church in Europe, being the most thorough form of theocracy, faced the biggest protestant movement in history.


In the Shi'a world, nobody ever took the path of a full theocracy before Ayatollah Khomeini, and his particular version of Shiism, which he himself resembled to European Papacy and Ottoman KhelAfat in his book "velAyate Faghih" is the first.  Now thanks to Khomeini's invention of a Shi'a theocracy in Iran, Iran's Shi'a clergy is facing a life and death challenge of Shi'a semi-Protestantism, in the words of Aghajari and the mojAhedine enghelAbe eslAmi (MEE) group. 


True that some members of MEE such as Behzad Nabavi are scared of challenging the Shi'a clergy and have started to disassociate themselves from this trend, but this semi-Protestant development is unavoidable, as long as its counterpart, which is the Islamic Republic's theocracy of the Shi'a clergy, continues to reign in Iran.


The theories of Aghajari would be the most fit to be called "reformation" theories, similar to what Lutheran movement in Europe was called.  But in face of this semi-Protestant challenge of Khomeinist theocracy, the hardliners of Shi'a clergy are reconsidering compromises with the "liberal" Islam of the so-called "reformists" such as the views espoused by the MP Mohammad-Reza Khatami, when he is even allowed to talk to the hardliners, of independence of religion from state.  The whole point of Mohammad-Reza Khatami's open correspondence with the hardliner HabibollAh AsgarolAdi MosalmAn, is an outright effort to unite together against this rise of semi-Protestantism in the Islamic Republic. 


True that this semi-Protestantism is very similar to what mojAhedine khalgh organization (MKO) was advocating twenty years ago when they were labeled as monAfegh and khavArej by Khomeini and spilling their blood was announced as halAl and they were executed en masse.  But MKO (aka PMOI)  was too radical for those days, and even more importantly, they did not have that much following in the newly formed Islamic Republic, and Khomeini sided with the main body of Shi'a clergy and wiped out the MKO and its supporters. 


In contrast the mojAhedine enghelAbe eslAmi (MEE), who are challenging the clergy today, are people who are accepted by the Islamist zealots inside the regime's critical organs, and many of them are running organizations such as sepAhe pAsdArAn (IRGC) and basij.  Also times have changed and 20 years of corruption with Shi'a clergy at the helm makes it difficult for Ayatollah Meshkini to depict Shi'a clergy as "masoom". 


In a way, 20 years has been enough for every Iranian, to see the accelerated version of what Europeans,  centuries ago, found out about  the theocracy, i.e. a corruptive rule of the clergy and its redundancy for life and after life.  This does not mean that the Shi'a clergy is going to surrender power to semi-Protestant zealots or to the secular liberals.  They want to hold on to power.  Some of them such as Ayatollah Taheri have been hedging themselves.  Some others, like Meshkini and Asgar-olAdi , are considering the alliance with secularists to nullify this semi-Protestant attack which is waged on their very existence.


I  would not be surprised if the likes of Ayatollah Meshkini temporarily make the role of valiyeh faghih (i.e. Ayatollah Khamenei's role) more of a formal status, such as "shah saltanat konad na hokoomat" to appease the "liberal" factions of Islamists starting with the the majles deputies.  They may even unite with the U.S. and U.K. to combat this internal challenge of semi-Protestantism.  In return they want to keep the clergy intact while uprooting this semi-Protestant religious opposition.  Some of the clergy who never cared for Islamic Republic, even look at Iranian monarchy as an ally to save their very existence, which is being challenged by the likes of Aghajari and MEE.


I think the friends and foes are changing for the rulers of Islamic Republic and we may witness drastic changes similar to what happened in 1981 when MKO fell out of favor.  I think whatever helps secularism is the best for Iran and a semi-Protestant rule of Islamism is not desired.  This is not the world of 15th century and the semi-Catholicism of Khomeini is as useless as the semi-Protestantism of MKO and MEE.  A secular and democratic federal republic is the solution for Iran's future and these variations of Medieval Shi'a Islam, with or without clergy, will waste 20 more years of the life of Iranian youth, if they succeed.


It is ridiculous that both those Islamists and monarchists, who are now finding the ideals of secular and democratic forces to their liking today, think it is the other way around.  Queen Farah Pahlavi while visiting Germany a few days ago, remarked that those who opposed monarchy are either with them or are working with the terrorist regime in Iran.  No, the reality is the other way around.  Some monarchists who were murdering democratic forces are now seeing the truth of the program of democratic and secular forces and are advocating democracy and human rights, and also some Islamists such as Akbar Ganji, who were pAsdArs in the past, attacking democracy and secularism, have come to the side of democracy and secularism.


Yes, it was the Iranian monarchy which *never* had full secularism nor respected democracy and human rights and some of them are now coming to the side of  human rights during the Islamic Republic, after they have experienced the short-end of the stick of dictatorship during IRI.  The same is true of those like Akbar Ganji who have seen the reality of religious dictatorship of pAsdArAn and the like, and today see the value of secularism and democracy.


I am glad that some individuals from both forces, namely monarchy and Islamism,  which were the historical blocks of democracy in Iran, are seeing the value of secularism and democracy, and are joining the ranks of Iranian democratic forces that had fought and lost their lives, under both monarchy and Islamic Republic, to speak for human rights, secularism and democracy.  It is false to depict the past monarchy as a democracy for the youth.  The youth who did not see the Savak of the Shah.  The same way it is wrong when reformed Islamists depict Khomeini's era as a secular-democratic republican state of affairs in Iran, which it never was.  Iranian people want to go beyond monarchy and theocracy towards a secular and democratic republic and anything short of that is a disrespect to all the sacrifices Iranian people have made for true democracy and secularism.


Hoping for a Secular, Democratic, Federal, and Future_Oriented Republic of Iran.


Sam Ghandchi, Publisher
Sept 12, 2002






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