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Hojatieh Society: 57 Years in the Shadow


Source: Ardalan Sayami Rooz Online

Advocate of Separation of State and Religion or Ally of Ahmadinejad?

Talking about the Hojatieh Society today and its role in Iran is both easy and difficult. On one hand it is possible to draw parallels between what the government and the Hojatieh are doing, and conclude that the current administration is in fact a "neo-Hojatieh" outfit.

On the other hand however, the idea of separation of state and religion is prominent in the group. Its leaders believe in a "personal religion" and deem the establishment of an Islamic government to be the prerogative of the twelfth Imam. But these views are in contradiction with the political philosophy of the leaders of the Islamic Republic. Under these circumstances, there is a battle raging between three movements which puts the Hojatieh in a more precarious corner.

Mesbah Yazdi

The issue started with Hossein Shariatmadari's interview with Hamshahri newspaper, when he said, "Hojatieh's battle with Bahaism during the Shah's time was a mistake and the group stopped its activities on orders of imam Khomeini."

In response to this, Mehdi Khazali whose father was once the representative of ayatollah Khomeini in the Hojatieh Society defended the group on September 19, 2010 on his website, which read, "There is no evidence of ayatollah Khomeini confronting the Society and in fact the Society was in line with the imam; and the evidence is that it gave many martyrs in the war to the revolution."

Following this position, Rahe Tudeh publication published a response to Khazali's position by publishing an interview by Ahmadi Taherzadeh that was published in Cheshmandaz magazine. The interview traced the history of Sheikh Mahmoud Halabi from the days prior to the nationalization of the oil industry and the establishment of the Society. Rahe Tudeh concluded that confrontation with the Hojatieh was in line with ayatollah Khomeini.

This resulted in a response by Khazali to both claims, in which he wrote, "The response given by Rahe Tudeh to me strengthens the existence of a conspiracy theory against the Society. It is important to note that, first, they had written that, 'the Imam had given orders for the Society to be set aside!' But where is this order? In fact, many officials of the regime have a history of belonging to the Society. General Salimi, Dr Ali Akbar Velayati, Parvaresh and tens of other wise and intelligent authorities. Second, they refer to the writings of Emadedin Baghi, while he had apologized to Ghaedin Zaman party for his book and while confessing to his mistake had asked for forgiveness from the Society.

The fact of the matter is that he had later realized the inaccuracy of his information and that he had been deceived by the Tudeh Party. Third, Rahe Tudeh has written that Taher Ahmadzadeh had told Imam in a letter that 'the Society was affiliated to the Freemasons and the British Intelligence service1'. This is a beautiful confession because everybody knows that Taherzadeh bent towards leftist and Marxist groups in the beginning of the 1979 revolution. I believe Taherzadeh, Emadedin Baghi, Saeed Imami etc had all been too harsh on the Society while all of them received their due suffering from God. Shariatmadari too should await the same."

Secular Left and Religious Left

The Hojatieh Society is a movement that has attacked by in the rivalries of the leftists in the 1980s and the revolutionaries and clerics. But it has returned to the scene with a new image and definition. During the 80s, they represented American Islam, during 90s they represented reactionary Islam and during the 2000 they were close to Mesbah Yazdi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mohtashamipour is the critic of the Society during the 90s and 2000s, which is the period when the group was not officially active.

Emadedin Baghi is the critic of the Society in the 80s when the organization was official. Years later, he told ISNA student news agency that, "I think was taken by the post-revolutionary atmosphere of the time and was awestruck by the revolutionary to the point that I defended it in absolute terms and rejected any thought or movement against the revolution without any fair play or ethical standards in writing the book "Dar Shenakhte Hezbe Ghaedin, which also reflected by youthfulness and impressionistic attitude."

Twenty years after the publication of the book "Dar Shenakhte Hezbe Ghaedin" Emaddedin Baghi wrote a self criticism over the book and wrote, "Today, after the period of pressure and crackdown on the Islamic Revolution the views of this group have become clear. These views say that whenever religion entered the realm of politics, faith was hurt, and it caused hurt on others as well."

The history of the Hojatieh has been the history of religious advocacy which during the Shah's time was more concerned with maintaining the traditional religious views and, as it has confessed itself to this. The Hojatieh group viewed itself as the victim of the leftists and its infiltration in religious viewed in the 60s.

So any discussion of the Hojatieh in Iran is not without controversy. On one hand the groups has no license to issue, formally operate while on the other it footprint is everywhere. This is true particularly since Ahmadinejad became president, who has been highlighting the idea of the "return" of the twelfth Imam. Although this group lacks any official status but who does not know of the influence of its believers and supporters behind the scenes and its role in directing major events.

The Society Born out of the Coup

The history of the Society began on the day that the 1953 coup d'etat succeeded and Mahmoud Halabi, who was a supporter of the nationalization of Iran's oil industry, began thinking of doing organizational work among believers in response to the shock caused by one of his associates who had turned to Bahaism, and so Halabi decided to create an anti Bahai society which got the name Hojatieh Society after the 1979 revolution. Seyed Abbas Alavi's turn to Bahaism had had such a strong impact on Halabi that he came to hold Bahaism responsible for every deviation and problem in society and politics.

Halabi's first task was to prepare religious students for fulfilling this task. But his plan was not supported by the clerics of the time, particularly ayatollah Borujerdi. According to the banned Shahrvand journal, Sheikh Mohammad Halabi did not retreat because of this set back and by moving to Tehran formed the first cell of his organization among the Muslim bazaar merchants. In 1956 he created a society called the Anjomane Kheirieh Hojatieh Mahdavie (Hojatieh Charity Organization). Earlier in 1953 Sheikh Mahmoud had claimed that the missing Imam had asked that a group be formed to fight Bahaism, and so this was the response.

Prominent Iranian intellectual Saeed Hajjarian has written, "For two years, the Shah tolerated the Society and Mahmoud Halabi and his associates and even gave Mr. Falsafi the opportunity to propagate against Bahaism on the national sate run radio. But following the destruction of the Hazireh-alGhods mosque by members of the Society in 1955, the Shah stopped them which forced them towards cultural activities and made them focus on influencing schools and the educational system where they built a base for themselves and from where they gradually expanded their activities."

The managing members of the founding board and board of directors of the Hojatieh Society in Mashhad and Tehran were, sheikh Mahmoud Halabi, Mohammad Salehi Azari, seyed Hossein Sajadi, Mohammad Hossein Sajadi, Mohammad Hossein Attar, Gholam-Hossein Haj Mohammad Taghi Bagher, seyed Reza Al Rasool, engineer Hooshmand, Dokhanchi, Hashemi, Dr Abd Khodai (parliament member from Mashhad) and Dr Mohammad Mehdi Poorgol. These individuals held meetings in their houses or those of the supporters of the Society" (Archives of the Center for the Islamic Revolution Documents, code 5327, 60/11/29 number 13.59).

According to the same document, "The organization that Halabi had created constantly grew among the middle religious class so that by the middle of 70s it had grown across Iran and even neighboring countries such as Pakistan and India. By creating the most import religious schools such as Alavi and Nikan, laid the foundation for educating a generation that later became the senior leaders of the Islamic Republic.

Alavi school was managed under the supervision of sheikh Ali-Asqar Karbaschian, popularly known as Alameh. This school was established in 1956 and because of sheikh Ali Asqar Alameh's style of management and the religious content of the school, most conservative families and those affiliated to the religious circles in Tehran tried to send their children this educational center. Many prominent names that emerged after the revolution came from here: Kamal Kharazi, Mahmoud Ghandi, Abdol-Karim Soroosh, Mohammad Nahavandian, Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, Nejad Hosseinian, Mohammad taghi Banki, Kolahdooz, Javad Vahabi, Mehdi Abrishamchi, Alireza Tashdid, Khamooshi, are the examples."

An interesting point about Hojatieh Society is that despite its religious nature, there were very few clerics. Sheikh Jaafar Shajooni who is among the best known supporters of Ahmadinejad and was then a member of the Hojatieh has said, "Mr. Halabi did not want clerics to enter the Society" (Archives for the Islamic Revolution Documents Center, Mohammad Taghi Falsafi's dossier, index number 1051, pages 2 and 3).

Hojatieh and Other Islamic Organizations

One leadership member of the Hojatieh who does not want his name revealed has told Rooz, "The rapid growth of the organization which was in no way proportionate to the level of threat posed by Bahaism resulted in a response to the society by some senior clerics who desired to create Islamic organizations for the purpose of dominating Islamic organizations in other countries and thus revive the grandeur of the monopoly of ayatollah Borujerdi's days."

By the end of the 1960s, the second generation of graduates of the Hojatieh entered the universities and embarked on activities to modernize and standardize the activities of the Society. So the decade of the 1970s was the period when the Society reformed itself which resulted in more professionalism and a division of work inside it.

After the death of ayatollah Hakim, Hojatieh members moved towards the leadership of ayatollah Khoi. At the same time, revolutionaries gathered around ayatollah Khomeini. This caused a problem for the Society after the 1979 revolution. This member of the Hojatieh Society continues, "Ayatollah Khomeini who was unhappy about the growth of the Hojatieh Society and its prominence in traditional religious circles ended the financial support of the Society.

It is noteworthy that the second article of the charter of the Hojatieh Society specifically bans the group from engaging in political activity and says that it will not accept the responsibility of any of its members' political interference.

Hojatieh and the Period of the Revolution

After the events of September 8, 1978, the Hojatiehs apparently changed their stand on political activism and Halabi announced the very next day that members of the Society had to participate in the national demonstrations across the country.

Mohammad Reza Hakimi has quoted one leadership member of the Society as saying, "The day after September 8th, Mr. Halabi came to our house and in the presence of the managers of the Society said, 'My position has changed and I am now certain that the leftists are not involved and therefore we too must participate in this movement.'"

In explaining the conditions of the early 1980s, this Hojatieh leader says, "Upon his return to Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini had no choice but to stay at the school belonging to the Hojatieh Society. But when he heard the Hojatieh supporters chanting for the speedy return of the missing Imam Mahdi, he ordered the complete closure of the Hojatieh Society despite the opposing view of the senior clerics so that its supporters would then chant, "Oh God, Keep Khomeini till Mahdi's revolution."

But according to Shahrvand, there is also a different narrative on this, which goes like this, "IN the beginning of the (1979) revolution, the supporters of the Hojatieh Society chanted "Mahdi come, Mahdi come," while supporters of ayatollah Khomeini chanted 'Oh God keep Khomeini till the revolution of Mahdi.' What was important is that after the revolution the focus of the Hojatieh switched from Bahais to Marxists.

The social background of the Hojatieh members prior to the revolution which comprised of the middle religious and bazari class, normally opposed the leftists, regardless of whether this was Mir Hossein Mousavi, Kianouri or Tabari. But when the slogan of 'battling world imperialism' enjoyed the upper hand in society and the policies of the country propagated leftist ideas, this focus on the left created a problem for the Society and all the pre-revolutionary differences were gathered under the slogan of 'American Islam.' The Hojatieh Society became the representative of American Islam and thus the supporters of Mr. Khomeini rejected the Society members on this view. Eventually, in a speech on July 12, 1983 ayatollah Khomeini said, 'There is another group whose thesis is that we should let conditions become worse so that Imam Mahdi arrives sooner. But for what reason would the Imam come? He will come to alleviate the conditions. So why should we make things worse? Remove these deviations.'"

Many politicians in those days interpreted this to be against the Hojatieh. The group itself issued a statement and offered an explanation. "Following these statements, it is rumored that what his eminence meant was this Society. While we have not found any such evidence, ... his eminence has in fact approved of the religious and cultural services of the Society. But on direct contact, ... it became clear that indeed this Society was the subject of the remarks. Therefore, the issue was communicated to the founder Mr. Halabi, who said there is no religious necessity to continue the activities and all meetings and programs should be ended" (Kayhan).

After this, the activities of the Hojatieh became legendary. Inside and outside the government a movement was born to purge all those suspecting of membership or supporting the Hojatieh, which also included the universities, educational organization, etc. In addition to the leftists, the Tudeh party associated anybody who it believed was moving against it to the Hojatieh. So anytime a view that was different was presented even at the highest clerical levels, it was immediately labeled to be stemming from the Hojatieh. The masses too had this view of the Hojatieh: "Through the Hojatieh and other secret counter-revolutionary groups which operate under the guise of 'fanatic Islam' there is a strong anti communist and anti Soviet movement, which is openly battling dissident parties and organization, including the Tudeh Party .. " (Nooredin Kianouri, Tudeh Party Publication, February 1982, page 24).

And while the Hojatieh no longer had any formal organization, but they responded to their opponents in an organized fashion and worked against them. They called Tudeh Party members to be Soviet agents, who in return said that the Hojatieh were British agents.

The Philosophy of Government from Hojatieh's Perspective

The Hojatieh Society believes in the creation of an Islamic government only in the presence of Mahdi, the twelfth Shite Imam while at the same time rejecting the notion of an absolute theologian ruler (velayate motlaghe faghih) believing that such a rule belongs to the twelfth Imam. Because of this, many difference developed between the members of this Society and those believed in the rule of the supreme theologian. Members of the Hojatieh at the same time say that they do believe in the rule of the theologian (velayate faghih) and obey religious sources of emulation (marjae taghlid). The difference is over the scope of authority of the theologian and not the theologian himself.

This effective Hojatieh member told Rooz, "the theologian that the Society has in mind is for secondary judgments, not primary ones. Therefore, the establishment of a government is among primary orders and includes only those acts that must be carried out by the missing Imam."

He continues, "Contrary to disseminated propaganda and the speech of Mr. Khomeini in 1981 against Hojatieh Society, they do not believe at all that sin, suffering, pain etc must reach their height to create the conditions for the return of the Imam. Instead, they believe in that the way out of the issue of absence of the Imam is the will of God and His wish, and so is possible only through requests and prayers for this possibility. Therefore, according to their view, noting the sanctity of the living imam equates to doing good and refraining from bad, i.e., encouraging people to pray for the return of the Imam."

"Philosophy is a kind of heresy and the intrusion of Greek philosophy in Islam was a plan that Abbassid caliphs launched for the purpose of confronting the school/followers of Esmat and the efforts against pure Shite thought," he continued.

It is noteworthy that these views of the Hojatieh Society (on philosophy) is pursued today by Mohammad-Reza Hakimi and his disciples who are mostly members of the former Hojatieh Society and are known as the "Separation School."

Hojatieh and the Separation School

One of the activities of the Hojatieh Society, whether during the life of Mahmoud Halabi (until 1997) or after that, has been dealing with the separation school. In the book titled Talayedar Aftab (Vanguards of the Sun), students and friends of Halabi and members of this Society point to the absence of the right conditions, the presence of social crises, preoccupation with battling Bahaism, etc are among the key reasons for the absence of publications on the Separation School and say, "At the first relative available opportunities and the presence of willing minds, the opportunity for publishing those lessons came about and it was possible for the master (i.e., Mohammad-Reza Hakimi) to gradually express the new ideas that he had kept in his heart for years and seldom spoke about. These were the values of the followers of the pure as opposed to the judgments and views of humanity."

This member of Hojatieh continues, "Halabi preferred to use the term moarefe alahie rather than the sensitive separation school."

The Hojatieh After Khomeini

It is said that after the death of ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 and the rise of ayatollah Khamenei to the leadership of the Islamic Republic who had a longer knowledge of members of the Hojatieh, who were from his own hometown, the activities of this group re-emerged again. During his presidency (in 1981), seyed Ali Khamenei also talked about the Hojatieh in a speech and said, "I believe among those who are members of the Hojatieh one can find individuals who are revolutionary, pious, honest, dedicated to the revolution, faithful to the imam and velayat faghih and subservient to the state and the Islamic Republic, just as there are also individuals who are negative, pessimistic, mean, without conviction and naggers. So the Society is comprised of a wide political ideology and revolutionary movement, and therefore is not confined to a specific narrow faction."

In a private interview in 1991, Mohammad-Reza Hakimi had said, "Members of the Society believe that the lost reputation of the Society had to be restored by the supreme leader [i.e., Khamenei], and that those who had defecated the tombstone of Mr. Halabi had to apologize to his spirit."

Mehdi Khazali also believed that ayatollah Khamenei and the Society enjoyed good relations. This is what he wrote on his personal website, "The Hojatieh Society had been created by a divine cleric, and respected theologian ayatollah haj Sheikh Mahmoud Halabi who remains a spiritual Shiite treasure who deservedly awaits the return of the Imam. Mr. Khamenei had issued special personal favorable instructions for the burial ceremony of Mr. Halabi. After him, Mr. Sajadi has been warmly embraced by the leader recently and the number two person at the Society Mr. Madarshahi was a special advisor to ayatollah Khamenei during the latter's presidency. His services to Islam and the revolution are well known to everybody."

Abolghasem Khazali who for years remained the highest person accused of being associated with the Hojatieh while being part of the Islamic republic government had said in an interview years ago, "Those whom I know in the Society desire to be active against Bahaism and the minister of intelligence (Mr. Yunesi) has said that he was ready to accept them."

These efforts by Khazali finally resulted in that Mr. Akbar Mohtashamipour expressly said that Ghadeer Foundation under his management was a "center for activities against the imam and the spread of Hojatieh beliefs," something that Khazali has rejected and instead has always claimed that "despite invitations by Society members, he never became a member of the group."

In Line With Ahmadinejad's Administration?

During the last five years, Mohtashamipour has been advancing the idea of the association between Hojatieh Society and Ahmadinejad's administration claiming that the promises that the administration and particularly Mashai make about the imminent appearance of the missing Imam and Mahdaviat are in fact a "neo-Hojatieh" movement. In 2009, he even told Khabar Online, "I can expressly name the Hojatieh Society to be behind all the sedition activities. The followers of this belief are currently active in foundations and organizations under different names and have influence in many centers and through some individuals who were not allowed to operate by the imam (i.e., ayatollah Khomeini) and whose views are exactly the opposite of the imam's are now active."

Ahmadinejad himself rejected any association with the Society in the first year of his presidency. According to Advar News in 2005 he expressly said that "the label of being a Hojatieh did not stick to him." Furthermore, he even claimed that the group acted in opposition to him. He said that the reason for their opposition to him was because he began his talks with a sentence that they did not like as they did not with anyone to talk of the missing Imam, adding that their goal was to destroy the administration among the public.

A Belief Outside the Administration and Authority?

But a senior member of the Hojatieh Society tells a different story about Ahmadinejad and the group. "The beliefs of the Society have taken shape outside the circles of power while Ahmadinejad cannot survive without it." "The core belief of the Hojatieh Society is that religion is a personal issue and that it should not mingle with politics whereas the administration strives to make religion a government issue and control religion through government," he added.

He continues, "Since Ahmadinejad's administration has come to power, some believe that his extremist views regarding the twelfth Shiite imam have resulted in that his critics who are said to be in line with ayatollah Khomeini's beliefs strive to use Khomeini's opposition to Hojatieh as an excuse to battle the Hojatieh today."

A book published in 2005 and authored by Dr seyed Hossein Sajadi, soon after the ninth presidential elections, the idea that is advanced is that the administration has the same ideology as the Society. In the book, titled "The Decade of Reappearance" Sajadi predicts bloody events to take place in the region such as a coup d'etat in Syria under the command of Safiyani (pp106), his war with the Lebanese Shiite and then an invasion of Iraq (pp 101-102), and finally Syria's joining the American camp and a bloody suppression of the Hezbollah by the US and Israel, followed by the assassination of Saudi leader Malik Abdullah by al-Qaeda (pp131-132).

Following the publication of this book, another book was published in Lebanon titled, "Ahmadinejad and the Forthcoming World revolution" which follows a similar theme.

Abdullah Shahbazi, a prominent historian said this about the book, "When the Decade of Reappearance was published I read it and by looking at its place of publication, i.e., Mashhad, I thought that Sajadi is the same engineer Sajadi who had been a key operator of the Hojatieh Society. But later when I read the life of sheikh Mahmoud Halabi, the founder and leader of the Society on Wikipedia, this suspicion turned into a fact for me. The writer of the book described the most important students of Halabi in these words: 'among his students were seyed Hossein Sajadi, seyed Hassan Eftekharzadeh Sabzevari, Asghar Sadeghi and Javad Madarshahi.'"

Shahbazi believes that Dr seyed Hossein Sajadi, the author of the book is the same person as engineer Sajadi of the 1960s whom he had seen many times during public speeches. After Halabi died, Sajadi became the principal leader of the Hojatieh Society.

But the source that Rooz spoke with said that while Sajadi was the leader of the Society, he was not the author of the Decade of Reappearance. The author used to be inclined towards the Society before the 1979 revolution but after it he was attracted to the leftist religious groups is now a member of the Jamiate Isargaran group in Mashhad and has no links with the Hojatieh. He added that this whole idea of linking Ahmadinejad's administration to the Hojatieh is an effort to weaken the Society.

In Hajarian's view, members of the Hojatieh are mostly educated, middle class individuals and are different from the group that claims the imminent reappearance of the Mahdi who are fundamentalists and regressive.

On July 26, 2010 Resalat newspaper reported that Hojatieh Society had applied for a license to become active again, reformist newspapers had this heading: Application Request from a Friendly Administration. While no names were mentioned in Resalat's initial news, no license has yet been issued. Three names are mentioned as current leaders of the Society: Sajadi, Eftekharzadeh and seyed Hassan Abtahi, while Sajadi seems to enjoy the strongest support. The peripheral view of the group today remains the separation of politics from religion, and the dominance of religion. Perhaps it was no accident that in the first years after Mohammad Khatami came to office some IRGC commanders warned against the rise of secular Islam under the leadership of Nehzate Azadi (Freedom Movement) at the intellectual level and the Hojatieh Society from the religious perspective. This is the same view that is said to prevail today in the corridors of the ministry of intelligence and the office of the president.

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