TEHRAN, Oct. 8 — A senior cleric who opposes religious rule of Iran and a number of his followers were arrested Sunday after clashes with the riot police over the weekend, news agencies reported.
Ayatollah Boroujerdi said that he had written to the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, to the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and to Pope Benedict XVI and others seeking protection and asking them “to make efforts to spread traditional religion,” separate from politics, ILNA reported.
“I believe people are fed up with political religion and want traditional religion to return,” ILNA quoted Ayatollah Boroujerdi as saying.
Protesters who were interviewed on opposition radio and satellite television channels Saturday said that the supporters of Ayatollah Boroujerdi were prepared to die in his defense.
The Iranian authorities are wary of any challenge, particularly from top clerics, to the system of clerical rule that was established after the 1979 Islamic revolution by the revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Iran has an elected president and Parliament, but final authority lies with the supreme leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khomeini's theory of the rule of the jurisprudent (velayet i-faqih), in which a leading ayatollah serves as final religious and political authority until the return of the Twelfth Imam, is still viewed as something of a marginal idea among Shi'i scholars, most of whom support Shi'ism's traditional non-involvement (or at least not overt involvement) in politics.
Iranian authorities had charged Ayatollah Boroujerdi with lacking sufficiently senior religious credentials to speak out on the matter. They also accused him of sacrilege.
This is somewhat ironic, given that Khamenei was sped up through the ranks specifically to serve as Khomeini's replacement, in violation of Shi'ism's tradition of promotion by consensus and acclaim. Many ayatollahs have questioned Khamenei's scholarly credentials and ability to rule.
It seems much more likely to me that political change will come to Iran as a result of dissatisfaction over religious rule, and the "innovation" represented by Khomeini's theory, lead by clerics such as Boroujerdi who argue that it is un-Islamic, than by liberal-secular activists, Michael Ledeen's claims that "Islam is very unpopular in Iran nowadays" notwithstanding.
Given the general view of the United States in the Middle East right now, the best thing Bush could do to bring about reform in Iran would be to throw his full support behind the Iranian government. I'm only half-kidding.