Yousef Saanei

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Yousef Saanei
Ayatollah Sanei.jpg
Yousef Saanei
Title Grand Ayatollah
Born 1937 (age 80–81)
Ethnicity Persian
Region Middle East
Religion Islam
Jurisprudence Shia
Creed Usuli
Political Party Islamic Republican Party (1980s)[1]
Main interest(s) Politics, Jurisprudence, Marja'yah and Theology

Yousef Saanei (Persian: يوسف صانعى‎; born 1937) is an Iranian Twelver Shi'a cleric and politician, a chairman of the Islamic Republic of Iran's powerful Guardian Council from 1980-83.[2]

Whether he is a Marja' (Grand Ayatollah) is disputed. His calls for radical political reform in Iran have been very controversial and in 2010 the government-sponsored "Qom Theological Lecturers Association" (Jame-e-Modarressin) declared him no longer qualified for emulation as a Grand Ayatollah. However, many of his followers continue to consider him their Marja,[3] and this has been acknowledged by several influential Maraji such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Naser Makarem Shirazi, Abdul-Karim Mousavi Ardebili and Hossein Noori Hamedani.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Saanei was born in Neekabad, Isfahan Province, in 1937.[2][5] He attended the Isfehan Seminary in 1946.[2] Then he joined the Qom Seminary in 1951 and graduated in 1955, and was thus awarded the commendation of Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi.[2] He was further educated by Grand Ayatollah Khomeini and other leading theologians.[2]


In 1975, Saanei became a teacher at the Haghani School of Divinity.[2] Later he became Grand Ayatollah.[2] In 1980, he was appointed chairman of the Guardian Council.[2] Saanei retired from the council in 1983 and has not held any political office since. According to the CBS GlobalPost, Saanei has been considered "the successor" of Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri and as "the spiritual leader" of the Iranian political opposition movement.[6]


Nuclear weapons and WMDs[edit]

In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei said:

"There is complete consensus on this issue. It is self-evident in Islam that it is prohibited to have nuclear bombs. It is eternal law, because the basic function of these weapons is to kill innocent people. This cannot be reversed.".[7]

Ayatollah Yousef Sanei said clerical authorities have quietly expressed opposition to the development of weapons of mass destruction for many years, and he described it as the reason that Iran never retaliated with chemical weapons when Saddam Hussein used them to kill Iranian troops and Iran-backed Kurds during the 1980- 88 Iran-Iraq war. "You cannot deliberately kill innocent people," he said.


He has declared that women have equal status in Islam. Like Zohreh Sefati, he believes that women can even become a marja' in Islam, i.e. that men and women can follow a female Islamic jurists' ijtihad.

Suicide bombing[edit]

He is particularly noteworthy for issuing a fatwa in which he declared suicide bombing as haram and a "terrorist act".[8]

2009 Iranian election[edit]

During the 2009 Iranian election protests, rumours arose that he had issued a religious edict proclaiming that Mr. Ahmedinejad was "not the president and that it is forbidden to cooperate with his government." These rumours were reported as such by several internet news agencies.[9][10][11]

Forced confessions[edit]

He is reported to have said during an August 12 speech at Gorgan that “Confession in prison and detention has not been and is not valid ... all persons who have somehow been involved in issuing these confessions are sharing same sin ... they will receive the retribution of their perfidious acts in this world and in a fair, righteous court.”[12]

Iranian democracy[edit]

Sanei is an outspoken Islamic democracy activist and has even called for the "discussion" of the clerical control of the Iranian regime.[citation needed]

Ethnic minorities[edit]

Having studied in clerical schools in Qom, Iraq and Tabriz; Sanei was raised fluent in the Persian, Arabic and Azerbaijani languages.[citation needed]

After the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri[edit]

According to one report, Saanei was likely to replace Hosein-Ali Montazeri as the leading clerical opponent of the regime and to be even more aggressive. Saanei declared the government illegitimate and warned that it "cannot reverse the situation in the country with terror, killing, torture and imprisonment."[13]

A day after the funeral procession of Montazeri, around 1,000 members of Iran's Basij militia and "plainclothes men" attacked offices of Saanei in the central shrine city of Qom, a reformist website reported on 22 December 2009. The plainclothes militiamen broke the windows of Sanei's office and insulted him and his staff and also beat up his staff. They also put up posters of Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who has been a staunch defender of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial June re-election and who ordered a post-election crackdown on opposition protests. Police sided with the militia and prevented Sanei’s supporters from defending his office, the website said. There was no immediate official comment. However, earlier on Tuesday, the semi-official Fars News Agency said pro-government theology students had staged a rally in Qom to protest "the insult against sanctifies" during Montazeri's funeral procession. The demonstration ended outside Saanei's home, Fars said, but it was not clear whether it was linked to the attack on Sanei's house reported by the aforementioned reformist website. The demonstrators chanted "The city of Qom is no city for hypocrites," and signed a statement calling for Sanei to be defrocked, Fars reported. One of the signatories, cleric Ahmad Panahian, said: "The trenches of the hypocrites in Qom must be destroyed."[14][15]

On 3 October 2010, news sites linked with Iran’s political opposition movement reported that Saanei's website was blocked. According to The New York Times, "Internet users who attempted to access them ... were automatically redirected to a standard Iranian government filtering page which offers links to government-authorized web sites ... and the official web site of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei."[16]

Demotion from religious authority[edit]

On 2 January 2010, a top clerical body in Qom, (The Qom Theological Lecturers Association, Jame-e-Modarressin), declared that Saanei no longer qualifies to be a marja al-taqlid, or a source of emulation — the highest clerical rank in Shia Islam. The body said that it had launched a yearlong investigation into the qualifications of Sanei in response to repetitive inquiries on the issue. In a statement bearing the signature of Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the former head of Iran's judiciary, the body announced that the result of the investigation indicate that Sanei is not eligible to be a marja.[3]

Conservatives and traditionalist condemned this move by Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi of Hoze Modaresin to disqualify Ayatollah Saanei as a Marja, questioned the authority of the government sanctioned and subsidised association, and pointed out that even a renowned Marja such as Ayatollah Sistani is not even listed by them as such.[17][18]


  1. ^ Ervand Abrahamian (1989). Radical Islam: the Iranian Mojahedin. I.B.Tauris. p. 45. ISBN 9781850430773. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Joint Crisis: Supreme Defense Council of Iran, 1980" (PDF). Harvard Model United Nations. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Ayatollah Sanei no longer qualified: Clerical body". Presstv. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  4. ^ "". 
  5. ^ "Biographical Note". Grand Ayatollah Saanei's Official Website. Retrieved 25 June 2009. 
  6. ^, Iran Unrest Could Boil Over January 16, Anniversary of the Fall of the Shah Could Spark Next Round of Demonstrations, 5 January 2010
  7. ^ "Nuclear weapons unholy, Iran says / Islam forbids use, clerics proclaim". 
  8. ^ "". 
  9. ^ "". Archived from the original on 16 June 2009. 
  10. ^ Dish, The Daily. "An Ayatollah Dissents". 
  11. ^ "خبرهای دريافتی : میرحسین موسوی هنوز در بازداشت خانگی به سر میبرد/ آيت الله صانعی احمدی نژاد رييس جمهور نيست و همکاری با او حرام است..." 
  12. ^, Ayatollah Watch. Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei
  13. ^, Ayatollah's death stirs Iranian opposition to bitter protests
  14. ^, Iran militiamen attack offices of pro-reform cleric: website
  15. ^, Iran Militia Attack Pro - Reform Cleric Home – Website
  16. ^ Yong, William (4 October 2010). "In Sign of Discord, Iran Blocks Web Sites of Some Clerics" – via 
  17. ^ "Conservatives & Traditionalist condemn move to disqualify Ayatollah Sanei". Ayande News. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  18. ^ Iran move to defrock dissident ayatollah opens rifts in theocracy CSMonitor

External links[edit]

Yousef Saanei on Instagram

Political offices
Preceded by
Position created
Chairman of the Guardian Council
Succeeded by
Abolghasem Khazali