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  Updated: January 12, 2010

Ayatollah Saanei succeeds Montazeri as Spiritual Guide

By: Sheikh M Khurasani

HOLY CITY OF QOM, Iran: Ayatollah Yousuf Saanei has stepped into the vacuum left by the December 19 death of the leading reformist ayatollah in Iran Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.

Ayatollah Saanei is another prominent reformist ayatollah who has emerged to provide the Green Movement with spiritual guidance and ideological support: Grand Ayatollah Yousuf Saanei declared on December 20 his desire to continue Ayatollah Montazeri's work and honor his legacy, assuming his mantle as the most prominent clerical reformist.

Ayatollah Saanei is known for his dynamic involvement in contemporary issues that serve as sources of contention both politically and theologically. A 2007 interview with him by the newspaper Asharq al Awsat discussed his opinions on current social and political issues. Saanei's translated book, The Essence of Thoughts, is posted on his website and delineates his views on Islam and modern society.

His revolutionary background is also notable, having been a trusted supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. Saanei served in the Guardian Council, the Assembly of Experts, and the Judiciary branch in the early 1980s.

His assumption of Montazeri's mantle and his scholarly and religious preeminence and popularity already have elicited a response from the Iranian establishment. His house and office in Qom were attacked by paramilitaries the day of Montazeri's funeral, which the government banned Saanei from attending. His office in Shiraz was attacked last week as well.

On January 2, cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi and the affiliated Qom Lecturer's Association attempted to discredit Ayatollah Saanei by declaring him to be ineligible to be a Marja-e Taqlid, or source of emulation and guidance to Shiite Muslims. The story was featured on all state-affiliated news agencies.

Ayatollah Yazdi's attempt to discredit Saanei has no precedent in Shiite history-ayatollahs may confirm the religious ranking of a scholarly peer, but never have had the religious authority de facto to excommunicate or demote him from the ranking.   

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