London, Asharq Al-Awsat—A damaging row at the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom has broken out over support for presidential candidates, though one some senior member of the society claim that the dispute is not critical.
The organization was founded before the 1979 revolution that created the Islamic Republic of Iran, but plays a key role in the country’s current political system, acting in many ways as a regulator of the country’s Shi’a clergy, and has in the past punished those who have expressed criticism of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or the system of clerically-led government.
Recently, unprompted statements by members of the Society have taken pains to emphasize unity within the ranks of the body, something that many analysts believe could indicate the extent of the divisions among the religious organization’s top members behind the scenes.
The difference of opinion are reportedly between Ayatollah Yazdi, head of the Society’s Supreme Council, and Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, a prominent member of the organization, and relates to the recent presidential elections and support of presidential candidates.
During the campaign, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi initially openly supported the candidacy former health minister Kamran Bagheri Lankarani, while a number of other members of the organization, including leader Ayatollah Yazdi, backed presidential candidate Ali Akbar Velayati.
In an interview with Mehr news agency published on Monday Ayatollah Yazdi emphasized: “As a member of the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, I had a duty to stop this division in the society from happening. This was a secession similar to what happened at the Association of the Combatant Clerics or the Combatant Clergy Association.”
“The clerics need to be informed that this division [in the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom] almost happened,” he said.
“I did my best to stop the breakup of the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, and thanks to God this has yet to come to pass,” Ayatollah Yazdi said, expressing hope that the recent secessionist trend would correct itself.
Ayatollah Yazdi implicitly criticized Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi for his support of Bagheri Lankarani during presidential election campaigns, saying: “At a time when the Guardian Council had not yet announced the list of the qualified candidates, it was not right to announce such support.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with ISNA news agency on Tuesday, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami—another member of the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom—attempted to play down the divisions within the organization. He said, “The society will continue on its way with solidarity”.
He stressed, “These differences in tastes are not as important as some media outlets are attempting to portray them,” adding, “The issue is a difference of taste, not a difference in goal.”