Once Sayid Ali Khamene'i became the Supreme Leader, the office was irreversibly diluted. As Montazeri noted, he was not a marja' taqlid (source of emulation) and had not even reached the level of mojtahed (someone who makes a legal decision by independent interpretation of the Quran and Sunna). Instead, he was simply a compromise candidate entrusted with the power to steer the nation; a candidate that would be preoccupied with maintaining his own power instead of tending to the welfare of Iranians.
Yet, there were others not involved in the compromise who wield an incomparably higher degree of moral authority amongst pious Iranians, and they would be heard. They would initiate a "sacral defense of secularism," as Dr. Sadri has termed it, and rattle the very pillars of Khomeini's Islamic government.
First up: Mohsen Kadivar, born in Fars in 1959, he reached the level of ijtihad (the highest level of Shi'a theology) after studying in the holy city of Qom, and he would go on to publish nine books. He was arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison for denouncing the murders of Iranian intellectuals and comparing the Islamic regime to the former monarch - but he would not relent in his criticism.
After determining that the concept of velayate-faghih is less than two centuries old, Kadivar intimates:
"The principle of Velyat-e Faghih is neither intuitively obvious, nor rationally necessary. It is neither a requirement of religion nor a necessity for denomination (mazhab). It is neither a part of shiite genral priniples (osoul), nor a component of detailed observances (forou). It is by mere consensus of Shiite ulama, nothing more than a jurisprudential minor hypothesis."Ayatollah Kadivar is not the only religious figure challenging the totalitarian theology of the governing clerical elites.
Next up: Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, born in Tabriz in 1936, is currently a professor of theology at the University of Tehran. Shabestari's main contribution to Shi'a theology is his insistence on the limited nature of religious knowledge. He states,
"The meaning of perfection of religion (ekmal-e din) is not that it contains everything under the sun, so that if we are unable to find a specific item in it, we could go off calling it imperfect. It is not perfection for religion to function as a substitute for science, technology, and human deliberation."
He intensifies his assault on the Islamic theocracy by distinguishing between secular exigencies and religious abstractions,
"God has accepted for the world to remain itself (in the secular sense of the term). He has decreed to let the world be the world. I am of the opinion that it is high time that we let people know to what extent they can expect religion to solve their secular problems and to establish an advanced society . . . The necessity of a democratic government can not be derived from the meaning of faith or the religious texts. However, since social realities demand such a form of government, people of faith must forge a relationship with this reality, reconcile themselves with its requirements, and follow a faithful life along its riverbed.”
Mojtahid Shabestari and Kadivar are not the only high-ranking Shi'a theologians confronting the philosophy and absurdities of the politically empowered clerics, but they are amongst the most eminent. Their words are nothing less than intellectual bullets piercing the hollow facade of clerical leadership inside Iran.
As they and others of their ilk spearhead the theological opposition to the Islamic theocracy from within the clerical ranks, they have provided the hope that the regime will undercut itself and eliminate one of the ugliest manifestations of political Islam in Iran since the Safavids.
After all, it was none other than the communist Secretary General himself, Mikhail Gorbachev, that precipitated the fall of the Soviet Union - not the opposition.