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How Iran's hard-liners aim to sideline traditionalist clerics

Iranian hard-liners are establishing parallel entities to train clerics in order to marginalize traditionalist clerics at the Qom seminary.
A Muslim Shiite cleric walks past the house of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in the holy city of Qom, 130 kilometres south of Tehran on January 15, 2019. - In the religious capital of Iran, the Islamic revolution still holds a powerful sway even as once-unthinkable signs of modernity creep into the city of Qom to challenge the faithful. Qom, a couple of hours drive south of Tehran, is one of Shiite Islam's holiest sites, home to dozens of seminaries and many of its m

The relationship between the state and the clerical establishment in Iran has been unsteady over the last four decades. The state has often criticized the Qom seminary for its lackluster support for the Islamic Revolution and for its lack of involvement in everyday matters of government, as it limits itself to religious issues. Against this backdrop, hard-liners have pushed the Qom seminary to engage more in everyday political and social problems. This effort has been going on since the 1979 revolution, as shown by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s condemnation of politically disengaged clerics as “sanctimonious and illiterate” who “cannot even run a bakery.”

To counter this threat, the Iranian state has tried a range of measures against nonrevolutionary clerics, from prosecution and imprisonment to house arrest and banishment. It has also attempted to address the problem more fundamentally by restructuring the seminaries to make them more dependent on the state, providing them with funding, housing, health care and pensions. Despite all this, the hard-liners are not satisfied, and this periodically causes an uproar between the two sides.

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