Deputy speaker and outspoken Tehran MP Ali Motahari has dismissed comments made by two Islamic jurists from the influential Guardian Council (GC) declaring a Zoroastrian’s membership in Yazd City Council as null and void.
The jurists’ argument was “impaired” and their behavior leads to “disrupted discipline and order” in Iran, Motahari wrote in an open letter published on October 28 on his website.
Earlier, jurist Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi had insisted that barring a Zoroastrian, Sepanta Niknam, from membership in the city council was “certain” and “irrevocable.”
“A non-Muslim's membership in city councils is against Shari’a” Islamic law, Yazdi argued.
The ayatollahs also used words spoken by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Rouhollah Khomeini to argue that a non-Muslim cannot be a member of a council making decisions in a Muslim-majority country.
Motahari in his letter offers a rebuttal to the two jurists. He says that at the time, Khomeini wanted to prevent “Marxists” and the People’s Mujahedin from taking over local councils and accuses the ayatollahs of a superficial reading. Khomeini was not really speaking about officially accepted religious minorities, Motahari says; he was speaking about non-believers and those opposed to the regime.
Motahari also rejected another argument made by the two insisting that there’s nothing wrong with the membership of minorities in councils in the cities where the majority of people are Muslims.
“A councilor’s responsibility is upkeeping the beauty, discipline, and order as well as approving municipalities’ budgets. They are not expected to decide the path and destiny of the nation of Islam.”
Sepanta Niknam, 32, is the first Zoroastrian who has served as a city councilor in Yazd and the only non-Muslim in all city councils in Iran. However, he was suspended after his re-election in May when he secured almost 22,000 votes.
Referring to democratically re-elected Niknam, Motahari reiterated that he has a vote in deciding matters solely related to city maintenance. The people of Yazd, Muslims and Zoroastrians, elected him to participate in the upkeep of the city, not deciding their way of life.
Tehran’s MP also emphasized that, contrary to the comments made by the ayatollahs, the possibility of minorities gaining a majority in the councils of primarily Muslim-populated cities is close to zero.
While praising the ayatollahs' “Islamic concerns,” Motahari, in his final blow, has accused the GC members of disrupting order and discipline in the country which can increase the risk to dometic and foreign investments in Iran.
“The GC’s style is incompatible with the spirit of the law. GC members cannot abolish laws arbitrarily. If they see a law against Islam, they should approach the government or the parliament demanding them to amend it through bills and motions."
Motahari’s argument is that the GC is a guardian when laws are being adopted and has its constitutional right to object to a law within a specified timeframe. But it cannot change laws once they are adopted and practiced.
Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has also strongly objected to suspending Niknam from his elected seat for not being a Muslim is illegal.
“If this matter is not resolved, we have no choice other than referring it to the Expediency Discernment Council for a final resolution,” Larijani has said.
The interference of the GC in this case has made officials and parliament members nervous about the ever increasing powers the conservative body tries to claim and use.