A moment of silence at the passing of a great leader

Don't have time to blog these days, but I have to note very sadly that Iran's most powerful voice for religious reform–and it's most illustrious contemporary religious scholar–Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has returned to his maker. Inna lillahi wa innaa ilaihi rajioon. From Allah we come and to Him we return.

In my view, the great man's passing is cause for mourning by Shia and Sunni alike, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, as for the last two decades he was truly a voice crying in the wilderness, speaking out eloquently qua a religious leader with impeccable scholarly and ideological credentials against the increasingly disastrous course the Islamic Revolution inexorably took after Ayatollah Khomeini's autocratic and theocratic interpretation of the doctrine of Vilayet-i Faqih was enshrined in Iranian political life.

It seems to me that Montazeri is one of a handful of recent historical figures whose wisdom and moderation could have dramatically changed the course of history for the good had the intelligentsia and religious establishment of his day (who long sniffed at him his lack of airs and his plain speech) deigned to seriously engage with his profound insights. It must be said that, like most real life historical figures, Ayatollah Khomeini was not the cartoon villain so often painted in simplistic MSM coverage and punditry–however much one may disagree with his ideas and decisions, which I do quite passionately in a number of serious matters (e.g., the Rushdie death sentence)–but I think it's fair to say that Iran and the region as a whole lost out enormously when Montazeri was marginalized after his falling out with Khomeini. Sadly, Montazeri's supple ideas and willingness to engage in self-criticism put him at odds with the rising tide of sterile Islamist thinking–with its obsession with political power and intellectual conformity–that swept through so much of the Muslim world in the 1980s and 1990s, so his eclipse was probably inevitable.

But it's well worth pondering what a historic opportunity was lost when he lost his battle for Iran's soul, as it were, so long ago. Here we had Iran's most senior religious scholar denouncing many of the policies that have rightly brought the Islamic Republic into disrepute around the world, and over two decades ago. The mind simply reels at the thought of what he could have accomplished–how much more healthy and successful Iranian political life could have been–had more leaders shared his vision and supported his calls for justice and self-criticism.

May Allah grant him Jannah for his towering courage, integrity and thirst for justice.

Spiritual father of Iran's reform movement dies – Yahoo! News

The spiritual father of Iran's reform movement died Sunday at the age of 87, prompting thousands of his followers to immediately head to the holy city where the dissident cleric is to be buried.[MORE]

  • Devin

    He certainly will be missed by the people of Iran and beyond. However, the views he expressed were not his alone and are quite prominent amongst the scholars and students in Qom. What was unique about him is that because of his standing he could be much more open than others in his criticism because the regime were too afraid to do too much to him. One of the dirty secrets of the IR is that their concept of government is not supported by many of the Shi’a scholars. In Iran it is hard to gauge to what degree as those who openly disagree with VF face oppression. I do not have not seen any figures personally, but I was told that there are currently more ulama imprisoned in Iran than at the height of the Shah’s crackdown which should give some idea of how things are.
    There are many to carry on where Montazeri left off, although probably only Saanei has the ability to be anywhere near as vocal. Iran also has a very vibrant intellectual community both within Iran and in the diaspora which continues to be influential (also, please see Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush’s letter, “Religious Tyranny is Crumbling”). What I am trying to say is that a moment may have been missed, but God is with the patient, and what is time but a series of moments. And as we are in the month of Muharram it is worth remembering that God is always with those who fight injustice.

  • Devin

    And of course I wanted to add that we pray that he attained what he longed for and is in a much better state than in this life.

  • Tilly

    Which muslim communities support Haiti in their pain and hardship now? Help them!!!!! Act, don´t just talk. This is comparable to the tsunami catstrophe: have the people and the leaders learned anything? Act faster to save lives: it´s a race against the clock!!!!!!

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com svend

    Thanks for the insightful comments, Devin. I wasn’t trying to imply the Ayatollah to be unique in this regard, so much as bring into sharp relief some of the contributions he made.
    Your point about there being many other thinkers to continue the fight as it were raises a concern I have contemporary notions of ijma (in Sunnidom as well, even if the details are different): Simply put, the right (by which I mean more productive as opposed to definitively proven) ideas and approaches don’t always prevail in the broader scholarly religious debate–at least in the scholarly fora that are visible. Of course, scholars in all fields are subject to fads, politics, culture, etc etc, but most Muslims continue to assume that the ulema are somehow excluded from this ironclad law of human nature. I think that hampers our ability to discuss issues with the nuance and openness to debate required in the modern world, with all its unprecedented challenges. It also allows reactionaries to use the illusion of ijma to browbeat others into obeying their whims.
    Tilly, I certainly think that Haiti needs and deserves to be helped, but the idea that Muslims are somehow particularly collectively negligent in this regard strikes me as problematic. Everyone needs to put their money where their mouth is.
    Muslims aren’t the ones who’ve created the dog-eat-dog economic order that has made life so cheap and short in Haiti. Nor are Muslims running the neoliberal international order that continues to rationalize the fact that many millions around the globe continue to languish in penury and disease.
    But I agree completely that more needs to be done, and by everybody.

  • Dewi

    Hi Tilly,
    In case you think muslims do not care about Haitian, I am a muslim and I donated $100 for Haiti though I had chosen non religious institution to donate through for the reason of practicality and promised of no part goes for administration. I also know a lot of muslim doctors are there. I also know Saudi Arabia donates $50 million to Haiti in aid relief (Star Tribune 2010-01-25). I believe I will find out more if I do reseach:)