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Revolution at 40: Qom seminary at crossroads over clergy’s future in Iran

On the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, the Qom seminary is torn in a struggle that may very well once again decide the future of Iran.
QOM, IRAN:  TO GO WITH AFP STORY: IRAN -VOTE-RELIGION-CLERICS An Iranian cleric student looks at the courtyard of Faiziyeh religious school in Iran's clerical capital Qom, 120 kms south of Tehran, 18 May 2005. It was in this desert city where it all began 42 years ago: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini branded the shah of Iran a "wretched, miserable man", and set in motion a series of events that led to the Islamic revolution. Khomeini's theocracy, where Shiite clerics exercise absolute power, is now 26 years old

Forty years after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the holy city of Qom is once again caught in a struggle over the future of the seminary — and perhaps the country. But while the essence of the clash may not be novel, the camps — and indeed the broader composition of the seminary — have vastly changed.

Sheikh Abdolkarim Haeri Yazdi established the Qom seminary in 1922. After his death, many senior Shiite clerics urged Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi to chair the institution, which he eventually accepted. Soon, Borujerdi became the sole "marja," which is the supreme religious authority in Shiite Islam. Like many of his predecessors, he largely avoided entering politics — partly due to the persecution of activist clergy in the aftermath of the 1905-11 Iranian Constitutional Revolution. Hence, Borujerdi's priority was to rather focus on enhancing the stability and position of the seminary. In this vein, he did not enjoy a good relationship with a number of politically active clerics, such as Ayatollah Abol-Ghasem Kashani as well as the Fada'iyan-e Islam, a group led by cleric Navvab Safavi who was later executed by the shah’s regime.

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