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.
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]