By: Mir M.Hosseini
Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani (1911 - September 10, 1979) was an Iranian theologian, humanist, Muslim reformer, democracy advocate and a senior Shia cleric of Iran. Taleghani was a contemporary of the Iranian Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and a leader in his own right of Iran's Shia resistance movement against the pro-western dictator Mohammad Reza Shah of Pahlavi Dynasty. As a founding member of the Freedom Movement of Iran, he has been described as a representative of the tendency of some clerics to blend Shia ideology with progressive schools of thought such as Marxism in order to compete with leftist movements, in order to get support from younger generations of intellectuals during the 1960s and 1970s. His "greatest influence" has been said to have been in "his teaching of Quranic exegesis," as many later revolutionaries were his students.
He was born to a religious family in the village of Galird of Taleqan County in Northern Iran. His father taught him Islamic sciences and he continued his studies in Qom, studying Islamic sciences at the Razaviyeh School and Feyzieh School. In 1938 he went to Tehran to preach and lecture on Islam and was arrested and imprisoned the next year for opposing the regime of Reza Shah. From 1948 onwards he held classes at the Hedayat Mosque in Tehran. He traveled abroad to Jordan and Egypt in 1951 and 1952, to Shu'oob-al-Moslemin Congress in Karachi city, and twice to Jerusalem as the head of an Iranian delegation to the annual Islamic Congress of Quds. He supported Mohammed Mosaddegh's Nationalization of Oil industry. Following the 1953 Iranian coup d'état that overthrew Mosaddegh and restored the Shah, he was arrested and - according to the Islamic Republic's IRIB website - "accused of hiding Navvab Safavi, the founder and leader of the Fadayan-e Islam" Islamist assassination group.
Politically active since school days, Taleghani was a veteran in the struggle against the Pahlavi regime. He was imprisoned on several occasions over the decades, as a young preacher, as a mid-ranking cleric, and as a senior religious leader just before the Iranian Revolution, and served a total of a dozen years in prison. In his time in prison he met many leftist political prisoners and he became particularly interested in talking about his interactions with leftists. The influence of the left on his thinking was reflected in his famous book "Islam and Ownership" which argued in support of collective ownership as if it were an article of faith in Islam. He helped found the National Resistance Movement of Iran in 1957 and together with Mehdi Bazargan he founded the Iran Freedom Movement in 1961. Between 1964 and 1978 he spent nearly a decade in jail. Altogether he spent nearly 15 years behind bars.
Although not as influential as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Taleghani was instrumental in shaping the groundswell movement that led to the Iranian Revolution and brought Khomeini to power. During the Islamic Revolution he became chairman of the Revolutionary Council, Iran's chief ruling body - a fact not revealed until his death. He was also the first Imam for Friday prayer in Tehran after the fall of Iran's interim government.
Taleghani was known for his tolerance and served as Khomeini's mediator in disputes with the Kurds and other dissident groups. He also had differences with Khomeini, which led to a clash between them in April 1979. To popular acclaim, Taleghani warned then against a return to despotism. Khomeini summoned Taleghani to Qom where he was given a severe criticism after which the press was called and told by Khomeini: "Mr. Taleghani is with us and he is sorry for what happened." Khomeini pointedly did not refer to him as Ayatollah Taleghani.
Taleghani strongly opposed the concept of Velayat Faghih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) which gave one person extraordinary power unprecedented since the ruling of Mohammad Ali Shah, the last Qajar despot who was toppled during the Conditional Monarchy Movement.
Taleghani died a few months later in September 1979. His sudden death was followed by huge crowds and much emotion during his funeral, and his death was said to be "a blow to moderation and progressive thought" in the revolution.