|Biographical detail : ||Iranís Grand Ayatollah
The plain-spoken senior cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (Grand Ayatollah from 1984) who helped forge Iranís system of religious government went on to become a fierce critic of its hard-liners.
Grand Ayatollah Montazeri was a potent force in Iranian politics for his revolutionary credibility and scholastic competence starting with his opposition to the Shah in the 1960s through his leading role in the 1979 revolution and ultimate disaffection with its excesses. He was an anti-imperialist, committed to the cause of downtrodden people.
He became politically more active in opposing the Shah and his authoritarian style of rule. He was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and sent into internal exile Ė a painful period that proved to be very influential in Ali Montazeriís intellectual development. Prison forced him to experience the tyranny of the state and the abuse of human rights. He also had to live in the same cell and argue with left-wingers and nationalists, and acquire a better understanding of their causes.
Once designated to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iranís supreme leader, Ayatollah Montazeri stepped away from the countryís hard-line path in the late 1980s, and later embraced the reform movement. He was dismissed in 1989 for speaking out against the execution of political opponents. He was an independent thinker and continued to be straight talker.
In 1997, Ayatollah Montazeri was placed under house arrest after openly criticising Ayatollah Khomeiniís successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The condition ended in 2003 after Iranian legislators called on Iranís then president, the reformist cleric Muhammad Khatami, to release him, to the delight of the crowd of well-wisher waiting outside his home.
Ayatollah Montazeri continued to teach and to write prolifically, championing the reformist cause and issuing edicts calling for greater openness and democracy.
Widely regarded as the most knowledgeable religious scholar in Iran, Ayatollah Montazeriís criticisms carried special potency. He made a historic statement in early 2009 calling for respect for the right of the Bahaíi people in Iran as citizens of the country. No other leading theologian has ever dared to issue such fatwa.
Hossein Ali was born in the city of Najafabad, in Isfahan province to a peasant family. He studied under Ayatollah Khomeini in Qom, and became involved in networks opposed to the Shah, earning a four-year prison sentence in 1974. After the revolution in 1979, he played a central role in creating Iranís new constitution, in part because of his authorship on the doctrine of vilayat-e-faqih. He argued that the clerics should play an advisory role in a democratic system, and should not rule directly.
Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri passed away in his sleep.