Mohsen Kadivar

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Mohsen Kadivar
محسن کدیور
Mohsen Kadivar- January 2012.jpg
Born (1959-06-07) June 7, 1959 (age 56)
Era 21st-century philosophy
Region Eastern philosophy

Mohsen Kadivar (محسن کدیور, born June 8, 1959) is an Iranian philosopher, university lecturer, cleric and activist. A political dissident, Kadivar has been a vocal critic of the doctrine of clerical rule, also known as Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist), and a strong advocate of democratic and liberal reforms in Iran. Kadivar has served time in prison in Iran for his political activism and beliefs.

Mohsen Kadivar's sister Jamileh Kadivar and brother-in-law Ata'ollah Mohajerani, are two leading figures in the Iranian reform movement.

Family, education and career[edit]

Born in Fasa to a politically active family,[1] Mohsen Kadivar completed his primary and secondary education in Shiraz before being admitted into electronics engineering at Shiraz University in 1977. He became politically active as a student and was arrested by the shah's police in May 1978 for his political activities. In 1980 he switched his focus to religious education and began attending Shiraz Seminary. He moved to Qom in 1981 to pursue his studies in fiqh and philosophy. In Qom, he was taught by prominent teachers like Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. Kadivar graduated with a degree in ijtihad in 1997. Then he went on to get his PhD in Islamic philosophy and theology from Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran in 1999.

Kadivar started his career as a teacher teaching fiqh and Islamic philosophy at Qom Seminary. Later he began teaching Islamic philosophy and theology at Imam Sadegh University, Mofid University, and Shahid Beheshti University. He started a decade of teaching at the department of philosophy at Tarbiat Modarres University. In 2007 political pressures forced Kadivar to leave his teaching appointment for a position at the Research Center of Iranian Institute of Philosophy. He is a faculty member of the Department of Islamic Philosophy at the Iranian Institute of Philosophy and is currently a visiting professor of religious studies at Duke University after spending the 2008-2009 academic year at the University of Virginia.

Kadivar married in 1981 and has four children.


Kadivar is a prominent critic of the Islamic Republic system in Iran, and wrote a detailed criticism of the Ayatollah's Khomeini's theory of Islamic government as rule by Shia clerics, Government by Mandate (see below). As punishment for his criticism, Kadivar was sentenced to eighteen months in prison after being convicted by the Special Clerical Court in 1999, on charges of having spread false information about Iran's "sacred system of the Islamic Republic" and of helping enemies of the Islamic revolution,[2] or as another observer put it, "for commenting on the contradiction between the revolution's aims to serve the people and the subsequent concentration of power in the hands of clerics."[3] He spent virtually all of his imprisonment in solitary confinement[4] and was released from Evin Prison, on July 17, 2000. Kadivar was unrepentant on his release[4] and is currently active within the various reform movements of Iran.

In a 2004 interview, Kadivar told a journalist,

"Every member of society and every member of government is subject to the law. No one can be above it. Everyone has the same rights, yet the root of the faqih is inequality. He assumes he is above it. ... It is time for the supreme leader to be subject to the constitution too. After all, the Supreme Leader doesn't come from God!"[4]

On the issue of clerics in government, he has said:

"Our job as religious people is not politics. ... They are taking Iran backward, not toward the future."[4]

Research works and contributions[edit]

Kadivar is a prolific author and has published twelve books. He has also been writing extensively in various Iranian journals and has over 100 articles to his name. Four of Kadivar's books focus on political theology. Of these, three comprise a trilogy - The Theories of State in the Shiite Jurisprudence, Government by Mandate, Government by Appointment.

The Theories of State in the Shiite Jurisprudence[edit]

The first volume of this trilogy, The Theories of State in the Shiite Jurisprudence (Nazarrieh haye Doulat dar Figh'h e Shi'eh), which has been translated to Arabic, encompasses a broad typology of religious opinions on the desired or permissible types of government in Shiite theology. Every single instance in this typology is either proposed or endorsed by the highest authorities in Shiite jurisprudence.[1]

According to Kadivar, "Velayat e Motlaghe ye Faghih" reflects a spectrum of authoritative options for Islamic society. There are not one, but "no less than nine distinct possible forms of government all proposed and supported by most revered religious scholars and texts."

A. Theories of State based on Immediate Divine Legitimacy Four theocratic types, in chronological order:

1. "Appointed Mandate of Jurisconsult" in Religious Matters (Shari'at) along with the Monarchic Mandate of Muslim Potentates in Secular Matters (Saltanat E Mashrou'eh) Advocates: Mohammad Bagher Majlesi, Mirza ye Ghomi, Seyed e Kashfi, Sheikh Fadl ollah Nouri, Ayatollah Abdolkarim Haeri Yazdi.

2. "General Appointed Mandate of Jurisconsults" (Velayat E Entesabi Ye Ammeh) Advocates: Molla Ahmad Naraghi, Sheikh Mohammad Hassan Najafi (Saheb Javaher) Ayatollahs Borujerdi,Golpayegani, Khomeini, (before the revolution)

3. "General Appointed Mandate of the Council of the 'Sources of Imitation' " (Velayat E Entesabi Ye Ammeh Ye Shora Ye Marje'eh Taghlid) Advocates: Ayatollahs: Abdollah Javadi Amoli, Beheshti, Taheri Khorram Abadi

4. "Absolute Appointed Mandate of Jurisconsult" (Velayat e Entesabi ye Motlaghe ye Faghihan) Advocate: Ayatollah Khomeini (after revolution)

B. Theories of State Based on Divine-popular Legitimacy Five democratic types, in chronological order:

5. "Constitutional State" (with the permission and supervision of Jurisprudents) (Dowlat e Mashrouteh) Advocates: Sheikh Esma'il Mahallati, Ayatollahs: Mazandarani, Tehrani, Tabataba'i, Khorasani, Na'ini

6. "Popular Stewardship along with Clerical Oversight" (Khelafat e Mardom ba Nezarat e Marjaiat) Advocate: Ayatollah Mohammad Bagher Sadr

7. "Elective Limited Mandate of Jurisprudents" (Velayat e Entekhabi ye Moghayyadeh ye Faghih) Advocate: Ayatollahs Motahhari, Montazeri

8. "Islamic elective State" (Dowlat e Entekhabi ye Eslami) Advocate: Ayatollah Mohammad Bagher Sadr

9. "Collective Government by Proxy" (Vekalat e Malekan e Shakhsi ye Mosha)" Advocate: Ayatollah Mehdi Ha'eri Yazdi

Government by Mandate[edit]

Having laid out a spectrum of authoritative options for Islamic society, in his second volume, Government by Mandate (Hokumat e Vela'i), Kadivar criticises Ayatollah Khomeini's theology, the most absolutist thesis among the varieties of "Velayat e Motlaghe ye Faghih" and the one enshrined in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[1] Kadivar considers this 432-page opus the heart of his trilogy and the most scholarly book he has written.

The work unfolds in two phases: the first, lays bare the presuppositions of the concept of Velayat, which concerns the meaning of the term, its interpretation in mysticism (Irfan), philosophy (Kalam), jurisprudence (Figh'h), The Qur'an, and Tradition (Sonnat). In every instance, Kadivar discounts political implications of the term. He traces the first indication of the thesis to the writings of eighteenth and nineteenth century jurists namely, Mohaghegh e Karaki, Shahid Thani, and Ahmad Naraghi. Kadivar, thus determines the age of the concept as less than two centuries, a mere blinking of an eye compared to the history of Shiite jurisprudence.[1]

But he reserves his most devastating attacks for the second part of the book that is devoted to the critical analysis of the proofs and confirmations of the principle of government by divine mandate. Here Kadivar proceeds in four sections; following the sources of adjudication in Shiite theology he sets up and knocks down the arguments for the Velayat e Faghih adduced from Quran, Tradition, (Sonnat) consensus of the Ulama, (Ijma') and reason (Aghl), He thus concludes:

"The principle of Velayat e Faqih is neither intuitively obvious, nor rationally necessary. It is neither a requirement of religion (Din) nor a necessity for denomination (Mazhab). It is neither a part of Shiite general principles (Osoul), nor a component of detailed observances (Forou') It is, by near consensus of Shiite Ulama, nothing more than a jurisprudential minor hypothesis."

Government by Appointment[edit]

The third volume of Kadivar's trilogy is entitled: Government by Appointment (Hokoumat e Entesabi). It deals with practical consequences, disappointments, and disenchantments that the Government based on divine mandate has brought about.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Mohsen Kadivar: Wielder of the 'Two-edged Sword'
  2. ^ Human Rights Watch, 2000, Hellman/Hammett Grants
  3. ^ Christopher de Bellaigue, The Struggle for Iran, New York Review of Books, 2007, p. 10
  4. ^ a b c d Wright, Robin, Dreams and Shadows : the Future of the Middle East, Penguin Press, 2008, p. 296

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